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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges
1 Corinthians 8



Other Authors
Verse 1

1. δέ. Next, as we should say. The Apostle answers another of the questions which have been submitted to him.

εἰδωλοθύτων. These were the parts of the sacrifice not consumed by fire, but reserved, as in the Jewish peace-offerings (see Leviticus 7:15-16; Leviticus 22:30), for the use of the priest and the worshipper. Sometimes (see ch. 1 Corinthians 10:25) the meat not consumed was sold in the shambles as ordinary butcher’s meat, without any notification that it had ever formed part of a sacrifice. ‘Most public entertainments,’ says Dean Stanley, ‘and many private meals, were more or less remotely the accompaniments of sacrifice.… This identification of a sacrifice and a feast was carried to the highest pitch among the Greeks. Sacrifices are enumerated by Aristotle (Ethics VIII. 9), and Thucydides (II. 38), amongst the chief means of social enjoyment.’ Hence the difficulty referred to in the present chapter was likely to be an extremely pressing one. Among the Jews (Numbers 25:2; Psalms 106:28) to partake of heathen sacrifices was strictly forbidden. See also Revelation 2:14. For a description of heathen sacrifices, see Homer, Iliad, Book I. 606–13. Cf. also Horace, Odes III. viii. 6, 7: ‘Voveram dulces epulas et album … caprum.’

ὅτι πάντες γνῶσιν ἔχομεν. Some have supposed a parenthesis commencing at ὅτι, ‘because we all have knowledge,’ and including the whole passage between these words and ‘we know that an idol,’ &c., in 1 Corinthians 8:4, where the construction in 1 Corinthians 8:1 is resumed. But it is better to regard the parenthesis as beginning at ‘Knowledge puffeth up,’ and extending thence to the end of 1 Corinthians 8:3, and thus avoid the use of οἴδαμεν ὅτι in two senses in the same passage. The Apostle’s words are not to be regarded as ironical. Admission into the Christian Church brought with it a vast amount of spiritual, and even intellectual, enlightenment. ‘I do not undertake to teach you as men destitute of knowledge; but ye are to be admonished to use what ye have well and prudently.’ Estius. This commentator further remarks that there is no contradiction between this verse and 1 Corinthians 8:7, inasmuch as here it is knowledge generally that is spoken of, whereas there a particular sort of knowledge is meant. The meaning of this apparent digression is, ‘We all know that Christians, by virtue of their fellowship with Christ, possess knowledge; but it is not upon their knowledge that they are to rely. “And yet shew I you a more excellent way.”’

ἡ γνῶσις φυσιοῖ. Knowledge is a good thing in its way, but it needs to be under the guidance of a higher principle. We may know that ‘an idol is nothing in the world.’ And all the use we may make of that knowledge may be to despise the poor creature who does not know what we know, and to use the liberty our knowledge gives us in a way to do him infinite harm. Something else than a knowledge like this is wanted in order to ‘build up’ the Church.

ἡ δὲ ἀγάπη οἰκοδομεῖ. Love buildeth up. Nothing has done more to obscure the connection between different passages of the New Testament, and to weaken our sense of the identity of sentiment between its different writers, than the use sometimes of the English word love, and sometimes of the word charity, derived from the Latin caritas, to translate the Greek word uniformly used throughout. Οἰκοδομεῖ introduces a metaphor taken from the gradual building of a house, and applied either [1] to the gradual formation of individual character, or [2] to the growth of the Christian Church. The word is found in both significations in ch. 1 Corinthians 14:4, but it is more commonly used in the second. See Ephesians 4:12; Ephesians 4:16, also ch. 14 throughout; and notes on ch. 1 Corinthians 3:17, 1 Corinthians 6:19. ‘It is love that edifieth;’ love that builds up both the character of the individual man and the society, each member of which is ‘chosen in Christ,’ to be ‘holy and without blame before God in love.’ Cf. also 1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Peter 2:5.

Verses 1-13


There is a great general similarity between this chapter and Romans 14. The question comes before the reader there in a somewhat different form. There rules are laid down concerning clean and unclean meats; here about meats offered in sacrifice to idols. There the weak brother is a Jew; here he may be also a Gentile. See note on 1 Corinthians 8:7. But this difference only brings out in stronger relief the identity of the principle, as laid down in ch. 1 Corinthians 6:12 of this Epistle (where see note). Matters of this kind are purely indifferent in themselves. It is only so far as they are likely to affect the conduct of others that they become important. The Christian was not to be over-scrupulous; not to fret himself about the lawfulness or unlawfulness of this or that particular act, but to consider all questions of this kind on the broad general ground of the welfare of the community, and therefore, as a matter of course, of the individuals who composed it. The instructed Christian knew well enough that an idol was but a piece of wood or stone. But all were not so enlightened. Each was therefore bound to consider the effect of his conduct on others, and not simply to act as if he were the only party concerned. By the decision in Acts 15:23-29, the Gentile converts were specially forbidden to eat meats offered to idols. Why does St Paul, it may be asked, make no reference to that decision here, and in some cases give a different one? It would seem that the directions given in Acts 15. were intended for special circumstances, and not for an universal rule. The letter containing them was addressed only to the Churches of Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, and was probably intended to allay the violence of the dissensions between Jewish and Gentile converts.

Verse 2

2. ἐγνωκέναι. This word implies the knowledge which comes from observation and experience. The rec. εἰδέναι would substitute rather the idea of intuitive knowledge. See above, 1 Corinthians 2:11, note.

οὔπω ἔγνω. He has never yet known. The aor. here is equivalent to the English perfect, in the sense of a condition which has become habitual.

καθὼς δεῖ γνῶναι. We may be puffed up by our knowledge, but it is with very little reason. Whatever our knowledge, it is at present very imperfect. There are ‘more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy.’ The truest and most perfect knowledge, the Apostle hints, comes from God, and its name is love.

Verse 3

3. οὗτος ἔγνωσται ὑπ' αὐτοῦ. Cf. 1 John 4:10. Also ἡ ἀγάπη ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστίν ib. 1 Corinthians 8:7. St Paul carefully corrects his language in Galatians 4:9, to avoid any mistake on the question of the source whence our moral qualities come. Cf. also ch. 1 Corinthians 13:12. St Paul and St John alike draw their inspiration from Christ’s own teaching on this point. See John 6:37; John 6:44-45; John 6:65. Observe the perfect. If a man loves God, he must already have been ‘known by Him’. The distinction between the disciple of Christ and the man of this world is that the latter seeks to know, the former to be known.

Verse 4

4. περὶ τῆς βρώσεως. The Apostle now comes more closely to the point than in the οἴδαμεν of 1 Corinthians 8:1. There the question is described as concerning meats offered to idols. Now he specifies more exactly that his remarks apply to the eating of such meats. βρῶσις is strictly the act of eating, βρῶμα the food eaten.

οὖν. ‘Therefore;’ a conclusion from what has gone before. This militates against the idea that the former verses are to be regarded as a parenthesis.

εἴδωλον. Some have translated, ‘there is no idol in the world.’ But a reference to the original sense of the word makes this rendering more than doubtful. Originally applied to the forms of the spirits in Hades, it came to mean mere phantoms of the mind (see Plat. Phaed. 66 c). Even in the LXX., where it has the modern meaning of our word idol, it came to have that meaning as the rendering of a Hebrew word signifying ‘vain, empty shadows’ (μάταια often in LXX.). Sir W. Scott, in his Introduction to the Fortunes of Nigel, speaks of the ‘Eidolon or representative Vision’ of the Author of Waverley. There can be no doubt that both significations of the word were present to St Paul’s mind. ‘There is no such thing as that which the idol represents. It is but a shadow, a figment of the imagination.’

Verse 5

5. καὶ γὰρ εἴπερ εἰσίν. ‘For even if we admit that there are,’ a supposition the truth of which the Apostle immediately concedes. εἴπερ with the present is equivalent to since.

ὥσπερ εἰσὶν θεοὶ πολλοὶ καὶ κύριοι πολλοί. The Apostle here certainly gives his adhesion to the existence of these beings, though he does not (see next verse) regard them as divine. They exist, and are called θεοί by the heathen. But the term is a misnomer. δαιμόνια is the proper title for those spiritual beings whom the heathen worship. But an idol is nothing whatever. See ch. 1 Corinthians 10:19-20. What St Paul would deny is that the εἴδωλον or representation had any sort of affinity with the beings who really rejoiced in men’s ignorance on this point, and profited by it. On this mysterious question cf. John 12:31; John 14:30; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 6:12, and the Revelation passim.

Verse 6

6. ὁ πατήρ, ἐξ οὗ τὰ πάντα. There is but one eternal First Cause and fountain of existence. Compare for the whole passage Ephesians 4:5-6. ‘The ancient doctors have not stuck to call the Father the origin, the cause, the author, the root, the fountain, and the head of the Son.… The Son is from the Father, receiving His subsistence by generation from Him. The Father is not from the Son, as being what He is from none.’ Bishop Pearson, On the Creed, Art. I.

εἰς αὐτόν. Unto Him. Toward Him as a goal all our thoughts, desires, purposes, should tend. The being which comes from Him should flow back to its source. Cf. Romans 11:36.

Verse 7

7. ἡ γνῶσις. The knowledge of which we have just spoken, 1 Corinthians 8:4-6. It cannot be knowledge in the abstract, for St Paul, however ironically, has said (1 Corinthians 8:1) that ‘all’ had that. It must therefore mean the knowledge regarding the true nature of an idol spoken of in 1 Corinthians 8:4.

συνηθείᾳ. See Critical Note. συνήθεια means [1] intimacy, [2] custom (as in ch. 1 Corinthians 11:16). The meaning here is the familiarity with the idea of the idol as the representative of a certain deity, an ideal from which the worshipper, from long habit, could not shake himself free. It was very difficult for Gentile converts to shake off their heathen notions. Many of the heresies of early times were due to these invincible prepossessions, as is also the belief in magic and witchcraft, which in all nations has long survived their conversion to Christianity. If, on the other hand, we read συνειδήσει it means either [1] conscientious dread of becoming in any way connected with the idol, or [2] conscientious apprehension of his personality, as though the meat were in some sense his property, and the eating of it an act of worship.

καὶ ἡ συνείδησις αὐτῶν ἀσθενὴς οὖσα. He is mistaken in his idea that the idol, or rather the being it represents, has a real existence, but as long as he entertains that idea, he is bound to act up to it. Cf. Romans 14:14, ‘To him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.’ See also Romans 8:20; Romans 8:23 of the same chapter.

μολύνεται. The conscience may be said to be defiled when it conveys to the man the feeling that he has incurred defilement by his conduct.

Verse 8

8. οὐ παραστήσει. Will not present us. Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:14; Colossians 1:22; Colossians 1:28. The same word is used in Romans 14:10. Cf. ch. 1 Corinthians 6:13. It is not Christ’s creature, doomed to perish, but Christ Himself that shall present us to God. The use of meats, like that of all outward things (cf. Colossians 2:22), is a matter of absolute insignificance in itself. They are of no real advantage to us, if we use them; to abstain for the sake of abstaining is a matter of equal indifference in God’s sight. The only question of real importance is, what effect will our conduct have on others?

περισσεύομενὑστερούμεθα. The idea seems to be that of having more or less of what is of value in the eyes of God by eating or refraining from eating. Hence the translation in the A.V., though not literal, gives the sense of the passage exactly. If, however, we take the words in the inverted order (see Critical Note), the whole character of the passage is altered. Then it becomes a reproof to those—a numerous class—who think themselves better men because they have more scrupulous consciences, and think of those who indulge freely yet rationally in what more scrupulous persons refuse, as having lowered their spiritual condition thereby. The lesson is a valuable one in all ages, and by no means alien to the mind of St Paul. But the reading is doubtful. If we accept it, we must translate the verse thus (the γὰρ of the rec. text being struck out), But meat will not present us to God: nor (on the other hand) if we do not eat, are we the better, neither, if we do eat, are we the worse.

Verse 9

9. ἐξουσία. See note on ch. 1 Corinthians 7:4. Under ordinary circumstances we have a right to act upon our rational convictions. See ch. 1 Corinthians 10:29. But this right has its limits, see ch. 1 Corinthians 6:12, and note. We are bound to respect the scruples of the conscientious, though perhaps unenlightened man. In this particular case there are those who conscientiously regard the deity symbolized by an idol as having a real existence, and anything offered in sacrifice to it as formally dedicated to it, and therefore as unfit to be partaken of by those who have renounced all fellowship with it. The perceptions of such persons may be far from clear, but their motives are pure and worthy of respect. We may be wiser than they, but we must be careful that we do not by our wisdom betray them into sin.

πρόσκομμα. ‘What reality is there in your religion if you look at men struggling in darkness, and are content to congratulate yourselves that you are in the light?… Slaves—idolaters—superstitious—alas! is that all that we have to say?’ Robertson. For πρόσκομμα see Romans 9:32. Also LXX. Exodus 23:33; Isaiah 8:14.

Verse 10

10. ἐὰν γάρ τις ἴδῃ σὲ τὸν ἔχοντα γνῶσιν ἐν εἰδωλείῳ κατακείμενον. St Paul here puts an extreme perhaps, but by no means an impossible case. We can imagine a strong-minded believer arguing thus, when asked to a friendly entertainment in an idol temple. ‘I am not worshipping the idol by going. I am merely accepting an invitation which is kindly meant. I know that most of those present will regard the feast as an act of worship. But that does not affect me. I do not believe in the idol myself, nor do I worship it. But I cannot and need not sever myself altogether from the society of my relations and friends because I am a Christian. In accepting an invitation of this kind, therefore, I am doing nothing wrong. For I have nothing to do with other people’s views. I am only responsible for my own.’ But St Paul answers, ‘That might be quite true, if you had no one to consider but yourself. But you have others to consider. You must consider those who would not unreasonably regard your presence in the idol temple as a direct act of worship, and might thereby be led by your example to the conclusion that idol worship was no sin, but only a pardonable concession to the prejudices of heathen society.’ Some commentators, supposing it impossible that a Christian could be found in the idol temple, have rendered ‘at an idol sacrifice,’ but the analogy of other similarly formed Greek words confirms the rendering in the text. σὲ τὸν ἔχοντα γνῶσιν, ‘you, who pride yourself on your knowledge,’ or more literally ‘you, the man who has knowledge.’ κατακείμενον is of course literally reclining.

οἰκοδομηθήσεται. See note on 1 Corinthians 8:1. The use of the word here is remarkable. But the A.V. has caught its spirit in emboldened.

εἰς τὸ τὰ εἰδωλόθυτα ἐσθίειν. The class of believer here referred to is that which cannot separate the eating meats offered to idols from an act of worship to the idol. See 1 Corinthians 8:7.

Verse 11

11. ἀπόλλυται γάρ. This may either be rendered [1] Why! through thy knowledge the weak is perishing, or [2] for in this way through thy knowledge the weak is perishing. The rec. text καὶ ἀπολεῖται is construed without difficulty.

ὁ ἀδελφός. The reading in the text is more emphatic than the rec. text: the weak is perishing by thy knowledge—the brother for whom Christ died. ἐν here means through the exercise of.

Verse 12

12. ἀσθενοῦσαν refers rather to the present condition than the permanent character of the conscience, and intimates the hope that the weakness will pass away as the believer grows in grace.

εἰς Χριστόν. Cf. Matthew 25:40; Matthew 25:45. For the reason of this compare John 17 throughout, as also such passages as Romans 12:5; Ephesians 1:23; Ephesians 3:17; Ephesians 4:15-16; Colossians 2:19; and ch. 1 Corinthians 10:17, 1 Corinthians 12:27 of this Epistle, where the indwelling of Christ in the individual believer is taught.

Verse 13

13. διόπερ. This word is only known to occur here and in ch. 1 Corinthians 10:14, in N.T. Elsewhere it is doubtful.

σκανδαλίζει. See note on ch. 1 Corinthians 1:23.

οὐ μὴ φάγω. ‘I will in no wise eat.’

εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα. The A.V. gives the sense of the whole passage admirably by the addition of the words ‘while the world standeth.’ But it is a paraphrase rather than a translation.

ἵνα μὴ τὸν ἀδελφόν μου σκανδαλίσω. In order that I may not make my brother to offend. ‘This abridgment of their liberty is a duty more especially incumbent on all who are possessed of influence.’ Robertson. And Estius remarks how St Paul in his ardour for the conversion of souls, was ready not only to abstain from meats offered to idols, but from meat altogether, rather than be an offence in another’s way. Cf. Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:1-2.


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

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Wednesday, November 25th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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