How 1 Corinthians 8 Changed My Mind About Yoga
When I was training for American Ninja Warrior, I started doing some yoga to help with flexibility and core strength. It was quite helpful and challenging and seemed to benefit my ninja skills. At the time, I didn’t know much about yoga’s background or how it was connected to Eastern religions. Then I gained some knowledge.
As it turned out, yoga positions had connections to positions of worship to Hindu gods. The famous phrase “Namaste”, which is often said by groups at the end of a yoga session, is a Hindu greeting that means “I bow to the divine in you.” Furthermore, yoga was being used by some as a bit of a gateway for ushering new age spirituality into America. I listened to stories of Christians who had formerly been misled by Eastern mysticism, spirituality, and occultism through New Age groups and churches in the USA. They strongly urged Christians to reject yoga. This was the first time my mind changed on yoga, but it wouldn’t be the last. Recently I was reading 1 Corinthians 8, and a lightbulb went off.
8 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “we all have knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If anyone thinks he knows anything, he does not yet know it as he ought to know it. 1 Corinthians 8:1-2 (CSB)
In this passage, Paul is addressing a controversy in the early church about eating food that had been previously connected to idol worship. Those coming from a pagan, Gentile background were well informed on the cult practices and all the connections certain meats sold in certain markets had to idol worship. John MacArthur says this about these practices, “The Greeks and Romans were polytheistic (worshiping many gods) and polydemonistic (believing in many evil spirits). They believed the evil spirits would try to invade human beings by attaching themselves to food before it was eaten, and that the spirits could be removed only by the food’s being sacrificed to a god. The sacrifice was meant not only to gain favor with the god, but also to cleanse the meat from demonic contamination. Such decontaminated meat was offered to the gods as a sacrifice. That which was not burned on the altar was served at wicked pagan feasts. What was left was sold in the market. After conversion, believers resented eating such food bought out of idol markets, because it reminded sensitive Gentile believers of their previous pagan lives and the demonic worship.” Thus, you can imagine the Gentile believers who knew all of this going to those who didn’t and having a conversation like, “You shouldn’t eat that meat.” “Why, has it gone bad?” “No, that’s the devil’s meat.” “What? I’m pretty sure it’s goat.” “No, you don’t understand. That meat is connected to idol worship. If you just knew what I knew about that meat, you wouldn’t eat it.” Then Paul comes into the conversation to shed some light.
4 About eating food sacrificed to idols, then, we know that “an idol is nothing in the world,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth—as there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father. All things are from him, and we exist for him. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ. All things are through him, and we exist through him. 7 However, not everyone has this knowledge. Some have been so used to idolatry up until now that when they eat food sacrificed to an idol, their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not bring us close to God. We are not worse off if we don’t eat, and we are not better if we do eat. 1 Corinthians 8:4-8 (CSB)
Paul’s response to the last statement of the hypothetical conversation played out above was basically, “Actually, if you knew what I knew about God, you would eat it.” At the beginning of chapter 8, Paul said, “If anyone thinks he knows anything, he does not yet know it as he ought to know it.” As humans, we have a problem. We are painfully ignorant compared to God. We know so little, and even the little we know we know but a little about it. What the Gentile and Jewish believers needed was not more information about idols but more information about God. Paul understood that only God is God, and meat is meat. I believe his wisdom applies to yoga. Let’s play out a hypothetical conversation. “You shouldn’t be doing that (yoga poses).” “Why, am I doing it wrong? Am I going to hurt myself?” “No, you’re mimicking the worship of Hindu gods.” “Huh? I’m just trying to stretch my back.” “You don’t understand. Yoga has all kinds of connections to Hinduism and New Age spirituality, and it’s the gateway drug to draw you into the occult. If you just knew what I knew about yoga, you wouldn’t do it.” This is where we could step in with Paul’s argument and respond, “Actually, only God is God, and bending over is just bending over.” We wouldn’t have to be guilt tripped into thinking we have participated in sinful activity just because our body finds itself in one of these positions:
Now, to be sure, I won’t be using the term “Namaste”. That does have a very clear meaning and has no place in the Christian life, but bending over is just bending over. Sticking my arms in the air is just sticking my arms in the air. Folding my body in half is just folding my body in half…which I can’t do anyway. Still, there will be those who have come out of Eastern religions, mysticism, and New Age spirituality who will struggle with that, and that’s okay. Paul doesn’t just tell them to get over it.
9 But be careful that this right of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone sees you, the one who has knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, won’t his weak conscience be encouraged to eat food offered to idols? 11 So the weak person, the brother or sister for whom Christ died, is ruined by your knowledge. 12 Now when you sin like this against brothers and sisters and wound their weak conscience, you are sinning against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food causes my brother or sister to fall, I will never again eat meat, so that I won’t cause my brother or sister to fall. 1 Corinthians 8:9-13 (CSB)
If there is a brother or sister in Christ in my life who is convinced that yoga is evil, I’ll honor that for them, just like I will honor keeping my distance or wearing a mask. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Let’s all be humble with our “knowledge” anyway, because none of us yet know anything as we ought to.