Islam and a Different Jesus

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In my last post on this subject [see links to all the posts here], I said I was covering the first of two posts that have seriously challenged the thesis I've been defending about the God of Christianity and the God of Islam. This post looks at the second post, Who's Allah? by Kevin Courter.

Kevin's argument is much more difficult for the position I've been taking than any of the other arguments I've been responding to. I actually think it's devastating to the position as I've sometimes stated it, but it shows that taking the biblical data seriously requires a position that's neither exactly what I've stated nor what the other side is saying. I do think my position is revisable to deal with the text he points to, and I don't think the other side is revisable to deal with the texts I've mustered or the arguments I've put forward.

Kevin presents two biblical arguments. The first is from II Corinthians 11:4:

For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. [ESV]

This way of speaking shows that Paul thinks someone who teaches a different gospel is teaching a different Jesus. Kevin also points to the discussions in I Corinthians 8 and 10 about eating meat sacrificed to idols. Paul speaks of such idols in two ways. At one point, he flat-out says that the idols are nothing, and there's nothing in principle wrong with eating meat sacrificed to non-existent beings (unless there are weak brothers or sisters around who would be led back into a life of idolatry if they saw mature believers doing that).On the other hand, Paul insists that there are demons standing behind them, and involvement in idolatry is involvement with demons. Kevin thinks that's a good reason to think false worship involves inadvertent demon-worship, and thus there must be some being Allah who is a demon rather than the word referring to God or not referring to any being. My argument assumed that the word 'Allah' either refers to God or does not refer to anything.

I'll come to the demon argument at the end. I think the more serious difficulty comes from the other issue, so I'll look at that first. I want to narrow my view down to its fundamental root. My original point in all this was twofold. One side of it is that you can speak of Muslims talking about God, and they do talk about God, the actual God that I believe in as a Christian. The other side of it is that they're getting it so wrong that it's wrong to speak of them as worshiping God if you mean a certain thing by that. I don't think any of what Kevin has said threatens either of those points, although I do think I need to modify how I put it to account for the two points he makes. There's a tension in scripture between (1) passages that speak of false worship as wrong worship of God and (2) passages that speak of false worship as not worship, false worship of God as not being about God, and false views of Jesus as not being about Jesus.

It seems perfectly ok to me to say that it's a different Jesus in Mormonism, so long as you mean what Paul meant by it. I don't think we can take that as an identity claim, though. If we did, then it would make no sense ever to say that Mormons say anything about Jesus. Mormons say things about Jesus all the time. They say that the Jesus the Bible speaks of was a created being (as was the God who created him) and that mere humans have the capability to achieve the same level. They don't believe these things of a non-existent being. They believe them of Jesus. An orthodox Christian just can't accept them as true things.

So what do we make of Paul's claim that a different gospel amounts to a different Jesus? I don't think he's speaking ontologically. He's simply speaking about how the people who teach a different gospel have got Jesus so wrong that their description of him is unrecognizable. I don't think the solution to the tension is to take Paul literally when he says it's a different Jesus (because there is no different Jesus that it could be about). It's not as if the heretics Paul is dealing with in II Corinthians are talking about a fictional entity like Santa Claus or Superman. They're talking about Jesus and saying things about him that amount to a fictional portrait of him. It's still a portrait of him.

So I have no trouble with Christians saying that Mormons follow a different Jesus, provided that they mean that Mormons follow a different teaching about Jesus. They follow a Jesus who did and is very different from the real Jesus, but it's not a fictional character that they're talking about. It's Jesus. Their portrait of him, the different Jesus, is not a fictional character but a different set of beliefs about him. They're still beliefs about him.

The trick is making sure we can account for both ways of talking. I've just presented one way to do so, and it doesn't involve a huge departure from the view I've been defending all along. It means being more tolerant of ways of speaking that say that the God of Islam is a different God, but it also means not letting that get to a point of an identity claim. The question is whether you can put both ways of talking together with a slightly-modified version of the opposite view? I suggest not. The original idea is that any reference to God (usually with the word 'Allah' in Arabic, but Muslims just speak of God when speaking English) can never refer to the actual God. The word simply refers to a fictional being, no more real than Zeus or Odin. How do you modify that view to allow for speaking the other way? I think you have to end up gutting the view to make it fit with both ways scripture speaks, whereas the view I've been defending only needs to loosen up the way it speaks. So I think the view I've been defending can better capture the scriptural data.

Now on the demon argument, I don't think that will work. If the reason Muslims don't refer to God when they use the word 'Allah' is that they deny essential properties of God when they do so, then it's even less true that they get the essential properties of any demons when they use 'Allah'. So they can't be referring to any demon when they use that word, by the very argument for seeing Allah as a different god. The Muslim picture of God is not a picture of a demon and in fact denies essential properties of demons by saying God is uncreated.

You could suppose that any connection with anything spiritual is connection with either God or a demon, and only Christian pursuits of God are connections with God, so any other spiritual pursuit involves connections with demons. That could be what Paul has in mind when he says that actual attendance at the religious feasts involving sacrifices to idols amounts to consorting with demons. But the word itself can't refer to a demon according to the very reason being given for why it can't refer to God.

Besides, Paul speaks two different ways when speaking of demons and idols. He does say that the gods they worship are non-existent. He also says that it's connected up with demons somehow. I don't think he identifies the gods with demons, or he couldn't say the first thing. At most he's saying that religious festivals with sacrifices to idols are demon-involved ceremonies. When he says it's ok to eat the meat outside those ceremonies, he insists that the idols are nothing, which means they're not demons. Isaiah argues the same thing at length. The idols themselves are just pieces of wood with metal coatings, and there's nothing more to the gods than that, even if you also think the religious ceremonies involve demons in some other way. It's not that the gods are demons, or Paul and Isaiah couldn't say that. So I don't think it will work to say that the being Muslims call God is a demon.

Postscript: After I wrote this post, but before I posted it, Dale Tuggy left a comment on one of the other posts linking to his response. He raises a different sort of concern about the possibility of a demon masquerading as God and giving the Qur'an to Muhammad. If Muhammad just imagined or made up the Qur'an, he doesn't know what to say. But what if he was actually interacting with a demon? It seems that he'd be saying all these things that seem to be about God, but he'd be saying them with a demon, right?

I don't actually think it's that simple. it would be like someone showing up disguised as me and taking my place for a year, with everyone thinking they're speaking of me but really speaking of the impostor. At times, though, they'll speak of me when they think they're speaking of the person in front of them. So wouldn't the scenario Dale proposes involve true statements about God, false statements about God, true statements about the impostor-demon, and false statements about the impostor-demon? It just makes the picture more complex. It doesn't mean there is no way in which Muslims ever speak of God.

15 Comments

Thinking out loud in your comments section based on Dale Tuggy's stuff and this post.

A person masquerading as me wouldn't have to say much to "prove" they're me. They just have to refer to some obvious information about me and then give a few intimate details that are true to me then from then on they could lie their heads off and charge whatever they want to host whatever meals they want.

Likewise a demon could just refer to some obvious generalities and give a few key intimate details, supported by outside sources (like the Bible), and then say whatever it wants and have folks participate in anything as long as its not having the people fully participate in anything with the actual God. It's a devious ruse but it ensures that the guests don't go to any other parties: they stay where they think is the right home.

In that case it can be argued that Muslims are speaking about God insofar as its referring to the person being masqueraded, but there's no way we can say "That is the actual YHWH God" because he's charging bills to a card that's not his and hosting parties that no one wants to leave to find the actual party.

Finally then that would mean to a Christian that Muslims are in a pretty bad spot. They may not be worshiping a demon perse, but they are at his party and they think they're in the right party.

[/end ramble]

I don't think I can argue against your point that Muslims and Mormons do, at least sometimes and in some sense, refer to the true God and the true Jesus. The question, as I see it, is whether an accidental or occassional reference is sufficient for an identity claim. I don't know that it is.

Your response to the demon argument, that it fails “by the very argument for seeing Allah as a different god,” could be stronger. The position for seeing Allah as a different God than that of Christianity goes beyond the simple fact that Muslims do not believe that Allah is a triune being. While the ontological aspect is important, so is that of revelation. Muslims are denying what the true God has revealed about himself. Basically, God is standing there right in front of them and they're picking someone else out the lineup. A demon would have no interest in revealing his essential properties. He would, in fact, do whatever was necessary to hide these. Denying what has been revealed is not the same thing as failing to believe what remains hidden. The two cases, that of Allah not being God or Allah not being a demon, are not the same.

As to Paul's point in I Corinthians 10, it seems to me that it goes beyond the idea that idolatry somehow involves demons. In verse 20, 'demons' replaces 'idols' as the indirect object. The two are being identified with one another. Food that is offered to idols is actually being offered to demons. But, if there is such a close identity between idols and demons, then what about Paul's statement that an idol is
nothing in this world, or, as the ESV puts it, 'an idol has no real existence.' I suggest that his intent is not to advocate literal non-existence. The simple fact that so many idols are tangible demonstrates as much. The contrast is not with existence at all, but with divine existence. Note the following verses

(ESV), “For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth--as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"-- 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.” Paul states right here that are many gods. In this sense, they do exist. But they aren't God, and, in that sense, they do not exist.

If my interpretation of Paul in the above passages is accurate, then the demon hypothesis cannot be dismissed that easily. Moreover, I think that it can be used in response to one of your objections to the 'another Jesus' argument. You do make a valid point about those who get “Jesus so wrong that their description of him is unrecognizable.” I have to admit that this may be part of what Paul meant. But
it's not everything he meant. If there are imposter demons, then your parethetical aside as to why we shouldn't take Paul literally- “because there is no different Jesus that it could be about”- begs the question. Some false teachers may have the real Jesus horribly wrong, but others, quite literally, are talking about somebody else.

I agree with you that the picture is complicated, and we can't take extreme positions either way. Even where there is a counterfeit, the occassional reference to the real thing is unavoidable. I won't defend the idea that Mormons or Muslims can't be talking about God at all. Even so, if we can reframe the debate in terms of a primary rather than an absolute referent, I'm still of the opinion that neither the real God nor the real Jesus are very far up on the totem pole.

You offer the following two things as if they're equivalent:

1. "Muslims are denying what the true God has revealed about himself."
2. "God is standing there right in front of them and they're picking someone else out the lineup."

But that's the very issue we're debating. Your argument takes the first to imply the second, and I'm not going to grant that inference.

My parenthetical remark comes from connecting this passage with Galatians 1. In II Corinthians 11, Paul holds three things in parallel -- another Jesus, a different spirit, and a different gospel. The other of "a different gospel" is in Galatians 1, where he says that they had been deserting Christ and turning to a different gospel, not that there really is another gospel but that they are distorting the gospel. I don't think it's a huge stretch to apply that to the first two expressions. Just as there is no other gospel, there is no other Jesus or Spirit. But you can speak as if they're following a different one because the content is different enough to be ultimately worthless.

It makes perfect sense to say that there are many gods and lords that people worship and serve. But I think the view I've defended allows for that. I have a harder time seeing how the view that Muslims worship a different being who doesn't exist can handle all the biblical data. The view you're defending does better than that. I do think the parallel with Galatians 1 counts against it at least a little, and I do think we should at least favor a literal interpretation of Paul's language of non-existence if we can make sense of it (and I think we can). Obviously he thinks the pieces of wood and metal exist, and it's certainly possible that he thinks the beings actually worshiped are demons, but I don't see any language about demon-worship, just that demons are present and participating in the pagan worship. I don't remember any such language anyway.

So I'd say that we shouldn't dismiss the view that much of the time language about God by Mormons and Muslims is really about God. I think that view is pretty plausible about most of their language, in fact.

I'll respond to the defense of your parenthetical remark later. For now, I'd like to focus on the inference you're not willing to grant. You don't have to. It's not necessary to the point I was trying to make (which was to show the weakness of your Allah-as-demon counterargument). In fact, if you'd like, ignore the second statement. For that matter, I'm not even asking that you grant the content of the first statement (at least, not for this point); only the fact that I and others on this side of the debate believe it.

Our argument is not, “God is a triune being. Muslims do not believe that Allah is a triune being. Therefore, Allah is not God.” If it were, then your counterargument would work. We could plug in a different set of terms, “A demon is a created being. Muslims do not believe that Allah is a created being. Therefore, Allah is not a demon.” Instead of this, our argument adds an essential feature; namely, what God says about himself. There isn't any reason at all why anyone would suspect God of triunity unless he happened to mention it. As long as he hasn't, then the failure to grasp this, essential though the fact itself may be to what and who he is, can have no bearing on whether or not he is the object of any specific belief. All of this changes once the revelation is in place. The lack of belief in the Trinity rises from the level of invincible ignorance to that of culpable denial. A denial that, I would argue, is sufficient to remove God as the primary object of belief.

In order for your counterargument to work, the revelation factor would need to be added to the demon scenario. Assume, for the moment, that there is an Allah-demon. The equivilant argument, revelation included, would be this, “The Allah-demon has revealed himself as a created being. Muslims deny that Allah is a created being. Therefore, Allah is not the Allah-demon.” Of course, even if there is an Allah-demon, he has done no such thing. In fact, rather than not saying a thing while Muslims draw false conclusions, it would be far more likely that he has lied about himself to ensure false conclusions. Muslims would grasp virtually none of the essential features of this demon. This, however, is not enough to remove the Allah-demon as the primary object of belief. For that, Muslims would have to deny truthfully revealed essential features. Yet, denial of x is not possible absent the revelation of x.

On to part two of my response. I've already agreed to a reading in which the other Jesus (and now, the other gospel) is 'other' in the sense that, while retaining the same identity, he or it has become unrecognizable. But I see no reason to suppose that this exhausts what Paul meant. Your parenthetical comment eliminates the possibility that, for some cases, Paul actually meant someone else posing as Jesus. Nor do I think that Galatians 1 is going to help that much. Paul does, immediately after mentioning a different gospel, write, “not that there is another one,” following this with those who want to distort the gospel of Christ. Yes, it is possible that Paul means to say that the gospel retains its identity even though distorted by these false teachers. That's not the way I read it, though. The distortion of the gospel of is effected by means of substitution. Paul goes on to call curses down on himself, angels, or anyone else who might preach a gospel contrary to the one they had received through his preaching. The 'contrary' part argues against identifying the two. When Paul says that there is not another gospel, he isn't claiming that anything being proclaimed must, therefore, have some continuity with the genuine article. Rather, he is indicating that, when speaking of a different gospel, the term 'gospel' should be taken ironically. No other means of becoming right with God, besides the one Paul had originally proclaimed, can truly be worthy of the name 'gospel'. If Galatians 1 does not necessitate identifying a different gospel with the true gospel, even though it may be distorted, then this passage cannot be used in support of the idea that the identity of the other Jesus must be one and the same with that of the true Christ.

Concerning your comment that “we should at least favor a literal interpretation of Paul's language of non-existence if we can make sense of it,” I wonder why the same reasoning doesn't apply to Paul's language about another Jesus. It does make sense to suppose that Paul is talking about someone else posing as Jesus. On the other hand, I don't think that we can be sense out of a literal interpretation of non-existence. You've stated that you don't see any language about demon worship. But it's right there in I Corinthians 10:20a, “No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God” (ESV). There is more to the demons' role than mere presence and participation. Since the demons are the recipients of the sacrifices, it follows that they are being worshipped. The only way to deny this is by saying that offering sacrifices to God does not constitute worship of God.

1. On your argument, then, contemporary Jews also do not believe in God. Would you agree with that? I don't think that implication favors the view. It seems obvious to me that contemporary Jews who aren't atheists do believe in God. Do they believe in a demon instead, or does something in the history of revelation make the difference with them?

2. Are you working with the following principle, then?

If God reveals an essential property of his, then anyone denying that property of him cannot by doing so be referring to him in that denial.

That principle strikes me as linguistically implausible. God is essentially omniscient, and he speaks to Saul saying that he knows the future, and he will take Saul down in the next battle. Saul responds, "You don't know what's going to happen to me. I may yet win this battle." According to the principle above, Saul's word 'you' doesn't refer to God. But the word 'you' does seem to refer to God in that instance. If the snake had said to Eve that God is a liar and not worth listening to, I think that would involve a denial of essential properties of God, but I don't think such a statement somehow doesn't refer to God. So that principle can't be true. For reference failure, it's got to involve more than just a denial of an essential property of God that God has revealed.

Maybe you're right about Galatians 1 not working well as the parallel I took it to be.

The only way to deny this is by saying that offering sacrifices to God does not constitute worship of God.

But the prophets and other OT authors do in fact deny that. II Kings 17 is already one example. See also I Sam 15:22; Ps 40:6-8; 50:7-11; Amos 5:21-24; Hosea 6:4-6; Isaiah 1:12-17; Prov 21:3. That doesn't mean sacrificing to an idol isn't worshiping a demon, but it doesn't automatically follow that sacrificing to something is worshiping that. The Israelites sacrificed to the golden calf, but I think they intended to be worshiping God by doing so, didn't they? By your argument they weren't worshiping God falsely by means of an idol (and thus breaking the second commandment) but were actually breaking the first too and not worshiping God at all.

Concerning your comment that “we should at least favor a literal interpretation of Paul's language of non-existence if we can make sense of it,” I wonder why the same reasoning doesn't apply to Paul's language about another Jesus.

Well, they can't both be true, so one has to be non-literal. We're already moving away from literalness to say it doesn't exist, since the piece of wood exists. But the being the piece of wood is supposed to stand for doesn't exist, so we have a very good candidate for something that's supposed to exist (according to the pagan) that doesn't really exist. Isn't that the face-value meaning of what he says? When you compare the language about another Jesus, it's also not quite literal on your interpretation. It's someone else who is enough like Jesus to be mistaken for Jesus, but that's someone non-existent. It's not an additional being who is also Jesus. The name 'Jesus' is in scare quotes, so to speak. The more I think about these in parallel, the more they seem to be about non-existent beings (at least if the second passage doesn't refer to the genuine article) rather than about demons.

Because I don't need to be staying up any later, just a response to your first point for now. To be completely consistent, I would have to say that contemporary Jews do not believe in God. In fact, this is what I write in the last paragraph of the “Who's Allah?” post. I would like to qualify that, though. You have at least made the case that there is some reference to the true God among Muslims and Mormons. One could hardly say anything less of the Jews. So my position is not that these groups do not believe in God at all. It's more a matter of the combination of factors that contribute to the primacy of a particular referent. There seems to be a continuum that encompasses denying any belief in God whatsoever, denying it with qualification (whether spoken or not), accepting it with qualification, and accepting it without reservation. With Jews, there are factors such as their past covenantal relation with God and the continuity of their tradition that may serve to move them further up the scale. It's not an easy call to make, so, on reflection, I'm not sure where I would come down on that one. At least somewhere where I'd feel obligated to verbalize a qualification either way. The situation is also complicated by the fact that very few religious groups are monolithic in their beliefs (I mentioned in my post the possibility of those in the visible church who do not actually believe in the true God). Muslims deny the trinity with an argument that it amounts to tri-theism. Do Jews make the same argument? Do they deny the trinity, or do they simply not give it the same emphasis found in Christian belief? The concept, after all, does not suddenly appear in the NT. As a matter of progressive revelation, it begins its development before that. I am especially reminded of Psalm 45:5,6 where God's throne is forever and God's God anoints him with the oil of gladness. In any event, since I'm not arguing for something absolute, the fact that the Jews make for a hard case doesn't really affect my position on Muslims.

And now, to your next point. I would treat that principle more as a contributing rather than a deciding factor. Could you narrow down the Saul example? The only thing that comes to mind is the incident with the witch at Endor. No matter, let's say it was as you've related it. If God and Saul are actually having a conversation, then this would go a ways toward negating the effects of Saul's denial of God's omniscience. As to the serpent calling God a liar, this looks like a mere verbal denial. That is, the serpent knows exactly who God is and is lying about it.

There's also the matter of what is being denied. The specific example here has been God's triunity. This is not just an attribute. The attributes of God can be equally distributed among the persons of the Trinity. God is omniscient. Therefore, the Father is omniscient, the Son is omniscient, and the Holy Spirit is omniscient, each in his own right. We can hardly say, however, that the Holy Spirit is a trinity. Attributes lean more in the direction of what God is like. The Trinity, though not exhaustively, is about what God is. More importantly, it is about who God is. There is one God; nevertheless (if I may forgiven the use of the plural here), they are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Those who deny the Trinity are denying the existence of at least two persons. They are, in effect, atheists. The person who is left is so distorted as not to be worthy of the name God.

You're right about reference failure involving more than the denial of revealed essential attributes. But I haven't been advocating reference failure when it comes to as an Islamic conception of God. I just don't think that the references they are able to make are sufficient to say that they believe in God. Mary is rightly called Theotokos, not because of any quality of her own, but because of the dual nature of her first born son. For most of his life, Jesus lived as an ordinary, first-century, Jewish man. He lived in public with people. To whatever extent they interacted with him, they also had to reference him. They could talk to Jesus, or about Jesus. Not being delusional, they believed that Jesus existed. Yet, despite their undeniable ability to reference Jesus, how many of them believed in the Son of God? We can see an illustration of this in John 9 when Jesus asks the man whom he had healed of blindness if he believed in the Son of Man. Conceivably, a man in a similar situation could have responded that he did not. The man's ability to reference Jesus was fully intact. Even so, the question shows that, in itself, this was not sufficient if the man was to believe in who and what Jesus really was.

I mentioned the golden calf as an example of violating the second commandment in the “Who's Allah?” post. So I'm not saying that idols must always stand in for demons or that they can never stand in for God. I do think, however, that whenever the first commandment is being violated, then idols, if there are any, most likely do not represent an empty set. The creature is being worshipped more than the Creator. More often than not, the creatures in question are, I believe, demons.

The context in I Corinthians 10 speaks of the Lord's Supper and our participtation in the body and blood of Christ. Paul then compares this to the Israelites, who, when they ate the sacrifices, were participants in the altar. In both of these cases, genuine worship of God is assumed. It is this worship that Paul is contrasting when he says that what is sacrificed to demons is not sacrificed to God. But this is not the primary point I was trying to derive from the passage. Whether or not demons were being worshipped, Paul identies them as the actual recipients of food offered to idols. If offering food to idols is identified with offering food to demons, then it takes little imagination to say that idols represent demons. Furthermore, when Paul asserts that idols are nothing in the world, or that they have no existence, he is talking about what the idol represents, not the idol itself (which, as we both agree, has a material existence). But demons exist, so we can't take Paul's language literally.

For some insight into what he does mean, it might be helpful to consider Deuteronomy 32, in which Moses recounts the history of Israel's fall into idolatry. Verses 17, 21, “17 They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded. 21 They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation” (ESV). This is not a list of separate things, but the same thing mentioned different ways. The demons that are no gods are the gods they had never known and who had come recently. They are idols, yet they are no god. Note two things here: the identification of the idols with demons and the back and forth between saying that they're not gods, yet they are gods.

I think of Paul's language of participation in I Cor 10 as similar to how he speaks of uniting the body of Christ with a prostitute. That's not worship. It's a kind of union or fellowship. True worship involves that, but I don't see how it requires worship.

Representation can occur on several levels. There's what something represents to the person doing the sacrifice, and that clearly isn't a demon. There's the notion of representing that we do as ambassadors of Christ. Maybe idols represent demons in that way, but that's a funny way to think of it. There's linguistic representation, where a symbol meaningfully refers to something in an objective way according to the conventions of a language, and maybe there's some extended sense in which practices have such representation. Do you mean something like that? I'm not sure what you mean by the idol representing the demon, so I'm not sure what to make of the claim.

Saying they're gods but not gods is compatible with both views. Pieces of wood covered with metal are gods but not gods. If those in some way represent demons, then you can say they're gods (because they're being worshiped) but not gods (because they're demons, not gods). If those represent fictional beings, then you can say the idols (i.e. the pieces of wood) are gods (by representing gods) but not gods (because they don't exist). So I'm not sure how the Deuteronomy passage makes a difference to the issue we're looking at.

The passage in Deuteronomy gives an example of how it's possible to speak of demons, which obviously do exist, as not existing. This is the case even if the demons and idols it mentions are entirely separate things. Such a separation, however, does not seem plausible. The Jews were not knowingly worshipping demons, which would almost have to be the case without some sort of idol proxy. Instead, they had fallen into first commandment style idolatry and Moses was informing them of what they were really doing. If Moses is making this kind of idol-demon connection, this strengthens the case that Paul is doing the same thing. It's not impossible that Paul even got the idea from his knowledge of the Pentateuch.

Of the options you list for representation, I'm thinking more along the lines of idols being a symbol of a demon in an objective way. As to being meaningful, this doesn't depend on whether or not the people involving themselves with idols have grasped the connection. They would most certainly deny it. But if idols and demons do stand in this symoblic-objective relationship, the meaning is not lost on the demons.

Paul's language of participation is that of union and fellowship. In context, however, he is talking about the sacrament of the Lord's Supper and the sacrifices that the Jews were told to offer. Both of these are instances of worship. Perhaps participation is possible apart from worship, but, at least in these cases, it does not appear that true worship is possible apart from participation. Whenever we partake of the sacrament, an act of worship, we participate in the body of Christ. Even so, I don't see how the question of the demon-idol relationship is affected by whether or not we want to call the surrounding activities worship. For me, the question is settled once Paul says that what pagans sacrifice [to idols], they offer to demons. Whether the pagans realize it or not, the demons are the recipients of what the pagans have to offer.

I'm not sure what it means to be sacrificing to demons when you sacrifice to idols, but you seem to take that as the demons receiving something. I suppose that's one thing it could mean, but what is it that they're receiving? This whole aspect of the passage has always seemed a little obscure to me.

Well, I suppose the shortest answer would be food. And I really don't mean that facetiously. I'm taking the idea of receiving from what is implied in the action of offering. One objection may be that demons don't eat. That is, after all, why there's all this food sacrificed to idols available for human consumption. But the objection doesn't stand up when compared to sacrificese made to God. Throughout the OT, per God's own instructions, offerings were made to him. There are, as some verses you pointed out earlier demonstrate, several times where he does not accept these offerings. Most of the time, though, he did. By accepting them, he received them. The sacrificial system was the heart of OT worship. In virtually every case, it involved something edible. The offerings were either burned up or eaten. Sometimes a combination of the two. Those that were burned up were devoted entirely to God. The fire represented God consuming the sacrifice. At times, God and the priests, as well as other Levites, shared it. Not only did this have the practical benefit of feeding priests, whose work did not allow them to produce their own food like most other Israelites could, but it placed the Levites in a special position of communion with God that the other tribes did not enjoy. The other tribes inherited land; the Levites inherited God. Perhaps my favorite chorus from Handel's Messiah is taken from Malachi 3:3- “And he shall purify the sons of Levi...that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.” For at least one offering, the people who brought it also got to sit down and have some. Paul writes in I Corinthians 10:18, “ Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?”

What does God receive from the sacrifices? Worship and praise. He's worthy to receive these. He also receives, in the sense that he shares with his people, the opportunity to express mutual union and fellowship. It's not so much a matter of what God needs. There's no way that he requires material offerings for any of this. However, we, his people are physical beings, we need something tangible. That's a big reason why once the sacrificial system was made obsolete by the eternal sacrifice of Christ, worship was not paired down to a strict preaching and prayer paradigm. The sacraments, especially that of communion, fulfill the same need in us, and to an even greater extent, as the Israelites' participation in the altar.

In your previous comment, you compared Paul's language of participation to “how he speaks of uniting the body of Christ with a prostitute.” That's precisely what Paul is getting at. You then follow by saying, “That's not worship.” Actually, it's a perversion of worship. Several times throughout the OT, Israel is pictured as God's wife, much the same way that the church is the bride of Christ. Idolatry is likened to Israel committing spiritual adultery against God. According to Jeremiah 3:8, God divorced the northern kingdom for being unfaithful. This is not a case of God drawing an analogy and then getting overly sensitive about it. His marriage union with his people, both then as well as now, is as real as any marriage. I would argue even more so. Those between man and wife are the copies. Moreover, the idolatry really was adultery. God didn't catch his wife reading graphic Romance novels. She was in bed with another man. You stated in a comment on my post, “Worship doesn't require a covenant.” Perhaps not for false worship. That is, by definition, the breaking of a covenant. It is adultery. When it comes to true worship though, the Covenant is everything.

When Paul puts connects these concepts- idols, communion, participation, prostitutes, demons- he's not really being all that original. He's building on a theology of true and false worship that is found throughout the OT. What do demons receive in false worship? They hate God. They get the opportunity for insult and blasphemy. Other than that, they receive nothing in the same sense that God does, for their worship is false. They caused a divorce once. Not this time. Because the sacrifice of the Bridegroom himself is that much better than the bulls and goats of Israel, the church has a far greater communion than any OT saint had. We are the purified Levites, and, one day, we will be presented to Christ as his spotless virgin bride.

I'm not sure the food sacrifices were seen as food for God. They were sacrificing something valuable that could provide sustenance. In the case of burnt offerings, they were consumed by God to symbolize sin being destroyed. In the case of the food for the priests, it was their support and a gift of a portion of what God had stewarded out to them. The surrounding peoples did see sacrifices as food for gods, but I don't think that language really gets applied in the Torah about genuine sacrifices to God, and I suspect that's deliberate, because God doesn't gain anything from our worship the way some have thought worship gives power to gods.

I also have trouble thinking of the Levites inheriting God. They represented God to the people and the people to God, but seeing him as a possession troubles me.

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