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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
1 Corinthians 8

 

 

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Verse 1

(b) Food offered to Idols

In these chapters St. Paul answers another question of the Corinthians—as to the lawfulness of eating food which had been offered in sacrifice to idols. This was a very urgent question. The whole worship of the heathen was sacrificial, and sacrifices were offered by them whenever a birthday or marriage was celebrated. Only part of the animal was consumed on the altar. Of the remainder, part became the priest's perquisite, and the rest was returned to the sacrificer, and he and his friends commonly feasted upon it, often in the precincts of the temple. Again, the bond of union between members of a Greek club, or guild, was a feast following a sacrifice. Much, too, of the meat in the market would have been offered in sacrifice, and sold by either priest or offerer. Thus a Corinthian Christian at a feast given by a heathen friend would probably have before him meat which had been offered in sacrifice; this might be the case even with meat bought in the market; and continued membership of these guilds meant joining in their sacrificial meals.

The Corinthians found this problem continually confronting them, and had asked St. Paul's advice. Their letter seems to have suggested that as an idol did not represent a real deity, food could not be polluted by being offered to it, and so might lawfully be eaten. St. Paul, however, admitting the truth of their view of idols, tells them that (1) knowledge must be tempered by love, care being taken to avoid injuring another's conscience; and (2) they must beware of idolatry.

In 1 Corinthians 8 he deals with the general principle, giving caution (1) above. In 1 Corinthians 9 he appeals to his own example, in forbearing, for the sake of others, to exercise rights he actually possessed, and in guarding against self-indulgence in his own life. In 1 Corinthians 10 he warns them against the danger of idolatry, reminding them of the sin and fate of the Israelites, and that the idol feasts mean fellowship with demons (idolatry being a suggestion of the powers of evil), which is inconsistent with the fellowship with and in Christ, bestowed in the Lord's Supper. Finally, he gives the practical advice, not to be needlessly scrupulous oneself, but to respect the scruples of others.

At the Council of Jerusalem, Gentile converts were directed to abstain from things sacrificed to idols (Acts 15:29). St. Paul had himself published these decrees in Syria, etc., but does not mention them here, though he says nothing inconsistent with them. Possibly he saw the Corinthians would be more influenced by argument than by appeal to authority, seeing that they prided themselves on their wisdom (1 Corinthians 3:18) and their ability to discern spiritual truth (1 Corinthians 2:13-15; 1 Corinthians 3:1).


Verses 1-13

(b) Food offered to Idols

(i) The Principle of Selfdenial

Knowledge must be tempered by love. More enlightened Christians must respect the scruples of their weaker brethren in the matter of eating meat which had been offered to idols.

1-13. Paraphrase. 'Your next question relates to meat offered in sacrifice to idols, asking whether it is permissible for a Christian to partake of it. We all know, as you remark, that such food is absolutely harmless to a man's spiritual life; but we must have regard for the feelings of others, and let love regulate our attitude. (2) Any one who prides himself on his knowledge is but a beginner in learning; (3) but if a man loves God, He receives His divine approval. (4) We know, of course, that an idol represents no real deity, for there is but one God. (5, 6) The heathen, doubtless, speak of many deities and demigods, but we know that these have no actual existence: we believe in God the Father and the Creator and in Jesus Christ His Son. (7) There are many Christians, however, not so well instructed as we are, who still think, as they have been accustomed, of an idol as representing an existing deity, and are shocked at the idea of eating meat which has been offered to it in sacrifice. (8, 9) Now it is quite true that whether we eat it or not is, in the abstract, a matter of indifference; it will make us neither better nor worse in the sight of God. But, at the same time, you must take care to do nothing that will shock another's feelings or wound his conscience. (10) If a man who thinks he cannot as a Christian eat in an idol's temple, sees one of you doing so, he may be led to follow your example; although his conscience, which is not so enlightened as yours, tells him he is doing wrong. (11) He is thus led to act against and stifle his conscience; and so the man for whom Christ died is brought to moral ruin by your self-confidence and bravado. (12) If you act in this way, offending the consciences of less self-reliant brethren and leading them into temptation, you sin directly against Christ. (13) Rather than thus do the weakest of my brethren spiritual injury, I would eat no flesh as long as I live, if to eat it is to harm another soul.'

1. We all have knowledge] This remark is probably quoted from the letter of the Corinthians. 1 Corinthians 8:2-3 are St. Paul's comment on it. Charity] RV 'love.'

3. Known of him] 'We can only know God by love... They who love Him are known of Him because they have intercourse with Him, and this mutual intercourse enables them to know him personally' (Sadler): cp. Galatians 4:9.

4. An idol is nothing] i.e. has no spiritual reality behind it.

6. 'For us there is but one God the Father, the Source of all things, for whose service we exist, and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whose agency all things were created, and. we Christians created anew.'

7. With conscience of the idol unto this hour] RV 'being used until now to the idol'; i.e. not having yet been able to shake off the idea that it represents some spiritual power. Their conscience being weak is defiled] i.e. they have a sense of moral defilement, because their conscience is not properly enlightened.

8. But meat, etc.] It is not such matters that make us well-pleasing to God.

9. This liberty of yours] i.e. freedom to eat.

10. See thee.. sit at meat in the idol's temple] This was what their boasted liberty had brought them to. Some of the Christians had actually partaken of a feast held in honour of some of the heathen deities. This was a more serious matter than merely eating (at home or at a friend's house) of meat which had been offered to an idol, and more fraught with danger to others. For it involved some sort of recognition of the heathen deity—at least, the weak brethren would naturally think so. Knowledge] enlightenment, consciousness that idols do not represent a real deity.

11. Perish] The result of acting against conscience: cp. Romans 14:23. 'Whatsoever is not of faith' (i.e. done without thorough conviction that it is right) 'is sin.'

12. Sin against Christ] who identifies Himself with His brethren (Acts 9:4; Matthew 25:40).

13. Probably this abstaining from flesh would be practised by St. Paul only where circumstances required it, as at Corinth.

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/1-corinthians-8.html. 1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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