Food Offered to Idols

Daniel and his three companions refuse to participate in the religious rituals of the Babylonian Empire – Daniel 1:14.

Upon his arrival in Babylon, Daniel is confronted with a predicament. If he consumes the food and drink of the king, it might impinge on his ritual impurity. While he might wish to avoid eating “unclean” meats, more likely, his concern is that consuming the “king’s delicacies” means participation in the idolatrous rituals of the Babylonian court.

Daniel objects to the “meats” and the “wine” from the royal table. But in the book of Leviticus, wine does not cause ritual defilement.

Moreover, Daniel makes no reference to the dietary regulations in the Torah, and the Hebrew term rendered “defile” (ga’al) in the passage is not the same one rendered “unclean” in Leviticus (ga’al appears nowhere in the Pentateuch).

  • (Daniel 1:8, 12) – “But Daniel laid it upon his heart not to defile himself with the meats of the king, nor with the wine which he drank, therefore, he sought the ruler of the eunuchs, that he might not defile (ga’al) himself… I pray you, prove your servants ten days, and let them give us vegetable food, that we may eat, and water that we may drink.


The Hebrew term pathbag more correctly means “delicacies,” not “meat” or animal flesh. The royal provisions would have included meat, but that is not the point of the passage.

Babylonian religious customs suggest a different issue - participation in idolatrous practices. Daniel objects to consuming provisions from the “table of the king,” and the stress is on the source of the food - THE ROYAL TABLE.

Daniel proposes a “test.” For “ten days,” he and his friends will only eat vegetables and drink water, and afterward, their Babylonian keeper may compare their appearance with that of the other young men who do consume food from the royal table.

Idols played a key role in Babylonian rituals. It was believed the god was present in his or her image within its temple. Such images were provided with daily meals of food and drink. The king provided the required foodstuffs for the god’s “meal,” and no one else present could eat before the deity had finished “consuming” it.

Thereafter, the remaining food was distributed for consumption at the royal table. Thus, the king’s provisions are linked to the idolatry of the Babylonian temples – (Joan Oates, Babylon, London - Thames and Hudson, 1986, p. 174-175).


Revelation alludes to this story in its letter to the church at Smyrna. The congregation is told to expect persecution - “You will BE TRIED, and you will have tribulation TEN DAYS.”

The Greek verb rendered “tried” in the Septuagint version of Daniel (peirazō) is the same one used in the Greek text of the letter to Smyrna - (Daniel 1:14, Revelation 2:8-11).

Christians at Smyrna are being “slandered by them who say they are Jews and are not, but instead, are a synagogue of Satan.” Consequently, some believers find themselves “cast into prison.” Nevertheless, those who remain “faithful until death” will receive the “crown of life and NOT BE HURT by the second death.”

This “slander” in Smyrna refers to false charges leveled against Christians before civil magistrates, probably for refusing to participate in the Roman imperial cult.

In Pergamos, Jesus rebukes church members who tolerate deceivers that teach believers “to eat things sacrificed to idols,” the “doctrine of the Nicolaitans.”

Likewise, in the city of Thyatira, the church is reprimanded for allowing the false prophetess, Jezebel, “to seduce my servants to fornicate and to eat things sacrificed to idols.”

And in the book of Revelation, the term “fornicate” is applied metaphorically to participation by believers in idolatrous practices - (Revelation 2:12-17, 17:2, 18:3, 18:9).

Thus, the issue in Daniel is not ritually “unclean” food, but participation in the idolatrous rituals of the Babylonian court. Likewise, in Revelation, first-century Christians are called by Jesus to avoid the idolatrous practices of “Babylon,” that is, the Roman imperial cult with its veneration of the emperor.

In the same way, believers today must not render homage to the idolatrous demands of end-time “Babylonthe Great Harlot” when she entices one and all to give allegiance to the “Beast from the sea,” and to its “image.”


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Language of the New Testament