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1 Corinthians 8

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In this chapter another subject is discussed, which had been proposed by the congregation at Corinth for the decision of the apostle. “Whether it was right for Christians to partake of the meat that had been offered in sacrifice to idols?” On this question there would be doubtless a difference of opinion among the Corinthian Christians. When those sacrifices were made to pagan gods, a part of the animal was given to the priest that officiated, a part was consumed on the altar, and a part (probably the principal part) was the property of him who offered it. This part was either eaten by him at home, as food which had been in some sense consecrated or blessed by having been offered to an idol; or it was partaken of at a feast in honor of the idol; or it was in some instances exposed for sale in the market in the same way as other meat. Whether, therefore, it would be right to partake of that food, either when invited to the house of a pagan friend, or when it was exposed for sale in the market, was a question which could not but present itself to a conscientious Christian. The objection to partaking of it would be, that to partake of it either in the temples or at the feasts of their pagan neighbors, would be to lend their countenance to idolatry. On the other hand, there were many who supposed that it was always lawful, and that the scruples of their brethren were needless. Some of their arguments Paul has alluded to in the course of the chapter: they were, that an idol was nothing in the world; that there was but one God, and that everyone must know this; and that, therefore, there was no danger that any worshipper of the, true God could be led into the absurdities of idolatry, 1 Corinthians 8:4-6. To this the apostle replies, that though there might be this knowledge, yet:

(1) Knowledge sometimes puffed up, and made us proud, and that we should be careful lest it should lead us astray by our vain self-confidence, 1 Corinthians 8:1-2, 1 Corinthians 8:7.

(2) That all had not that knowledge 1 Corinthians 8:7; and that they even then, notwithstanding all the light which had been shed around them by Christianity, and notwithstanding the absurdity of idolatry, still regarded an idol as a real existence, as a god, and worshipped it as such; and that it would be highly improper to countenance in any way that idea. He left the inference, therefore, that it was not proper “from this argument,” to partake of the sacrifices to idols.

A second argument in favor of partaking of that food is alluded to in 1 Corinthians 8:8, to wit, that it must be in itself a matter of indifference; that it could make no difference before God, where all depended on moral purity and holiness of heart, whether a man had eaten meat or not; that we were really no better or worse for it; and that, therefore, it was proper to partake of that food. To this Paul replies:

  1. That though this was true, as an abstract proposition, yet it might be the occasion of leading others into sin 1 Corinthians 8:9.

(2)That the effect on a weak brother would be to lead him to suppose that an idol was something, and to confirm him in his supposition that an idol should have some regard, and be worshipped in the temple, 1 Corinthians 8:10.

(3)That the consequence might be, that a Christian of little information and experience might be drawn away and perish, 1 Corinthians 8:11.

(4)That this would be to sin against Christ, if a feeble Christian should be thus destroyed, 1 Corinthians 8:12. And,

  1. That as for himself, if indulgence in meat was in any way the occasion of making another sin, he would eat no meat as long as the world stood 1 Corinthians 8:13; since to abstain from meat was a far less evil than the injury or destruction of an immortal soul.

Verse 1

Now as touching - In regard to; in answer to your inquiry whether it is right or not to partake of those things.

Things offered unto idols - Sacrifices unto idols. Meat that had been offered in sacrifice, and then either exposed to sale in the market, or served up at the feasts held in honor of idols, at their temples, or at the houses of their devotees. The priests, who were entitled to a part of the meat that was offered in sacrifice, would expose it to sale in the market; and it was a custom with the Gentiles to make feasts in honor of the idol gods on the meat that was offered in sacrifice; see 1 Corinthians 8:10, of this chapter, and 1 Corinthians 10:20-21. Some Christians would hold that there could be no harm in partaking of this meat any more than any other meat, since an idol was nothing; and others would have many scruples in regard to it, since it would seem to countenance idol worship. The request made of Paul was, that he should settle some “general principle” which they might all safely follow.

We know - We admit; we cannot dispute; it is so plain a case that no one can be ignorant on this point. Probably these are the words of the Corinthians, and perhaps they were contained in the letter which was sent to Paul. They would affirm that they were not ignorant in regard to the nature of idols; they were well assured that they were nothing at all; and hence, they seemed to infer that it might be right and proper to partake of this food anywhere and everywhere, even in the idol temples themselves; see 1 Corinthians 8:10. To this Paul replies in the course of the chapter, and particularly in 1 Corinthians 8:7.

That we all have knowledge - That is, on this subject; we are acquainted with the true nature of idols, and of idol worship; we all esteem an idol to be nothing, and cannot be in danger of being led into idolatry, or into any improper views in regard to this subject by participating of the food and feasts connected with idol worship This is the statement and argument of the Corinthians. To this Paul makes two answers:

  1. In a “parenthesis” in 1 Corinthians 8:1-3, to wit, that it was not safe to rely on mere knowledge in such a case, since the effect of mere knowledge was often to puff people up and to make them proud, but that they ought to act rather from “charity,” or love; and,
  2. That though the mass of them might have this knowledge, yet that all did not possess it, and they might be injured, 1 Corinthians 8:7.

Having stated this argument of the Corinthians, that all had knowledge, in 1 Corinthians 8:1, Paul then in a parenthesis states the usual effect of knowledge, and shows that it is not a safe guide, 1 Corinthians 8:1-3. In 1 Corinthians 8:4, he “resumes” the statement (commenced in 1 Corinthians 8:1) of the Corinthians, but which, in a mode quite frequent in his writings, he had broken off by his parenthesis on the subject of knowledge; and in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, he states the argument more at length; concedes that there was to them but one God, and that the majority of them must know that; but states in 1 Corinthians 8:7, that all had not this knowledge, and that those who had knowledge ought to act so as not to injure those who had not.

Knowledge puffeth up - This is the beginning of the parenthesis. It is the reply of Paul to the statement of the Corinthians, that all had knowledge. The sense is, “Admitting that you all have knowledge; that you know what is the nature of an idol, and of idol worship; yet mere knowledge in this case is not a safe guide; its effect may be to puff up, to fill with pride and self-sufficiency, and to lead you astray. charity or love, as well as knowledge, should be allowed to come in as a guide in such cases, and will be a safer guide than mere knowledge.” There had been some remarkable proofs of the impropriety of relying on mere knowledge as a guide in religious matters among the Corinthians, and it was well for Paul to remind them of it. These pretenders to uncommon wisdom had given rise to their factions, disputes, and parties, (see 1 Corinthians 1:0; 1 Corinthians 2:0; 1 Corinthians 3:0); and Paul now reminds them that it was not safe to rely on such a guide. And it is no more safe now than it was then. Mere knowledge, or science, when the heart is not right, fills with pride; swells a man with vain self-confidence and reliance in his own powers, and very often leads him entirely astray. Knowledge combined with right feelings, with pure principles, with a heart filled with love to God and human beings, may be trusted: but not mere intellectual attainments; mere abstract science; the mere cultivation of the intellect. Unless the heart is cultivated with that, the effect of knowledge is to make a man a pedant; and to fill him with vain ideas of his own importance; and thus to lead him into error and to sin.

But charity edifieth - Love (ἡ ἀγάπη hē agapē); so the word means; and so it would be well to translate it. Our word “charity” we now apply almost exclusively to alms-giving, or to the favorable opinion which we entertain of others when they seem to be in error or fault. The word in the Scripture means simply “love.” See the notes on 1 Corinthians 13:0. The sense here is, “Knowledge is not a safe guide, and should not be trusted. love to each other and to God, true Christian affection, will be a safer guide than mere knowledge, Your conclusion on this question should not be formed from mere abstract knowledge; but you should ask what love to others - to the peace, purity, happiness, and salvation of your brethren - would demand. If love to them would prompt to this course, and permit you to partake of this food, it should be done; if not, if it would injure them, whatever mere knowledge would dictate, it should not be done.” The doctrine is, that love to God and to each other is a better guide in determining what to do than mere knowledge. And it is so. It will prompt us to seek the welfare of others, and to avoid what would injure them. It will make us tender, affectionate, and kind; and will better tell us what to do, and how to do it in the best way, than all the abstract knowledge that is conceivable. The man who is influenced by love, ever pure and ever glowing, is not in much danger of going astray, or of doing injury to the cause of God. The man who relies on his knowledge is heady, high-minded, obstinate, contentious, vexatious, perverse, opinionated; and most of the difficulties in the church arise from such people. Love makes no difficulty, but heals and allays all; mere knowledge heals or allays none, but is often the occasion of most bitter strife and contention. Paul was wise in recommending that the question should be settled by love; and it would be wise if all Christians would follow his instructions.

Verse 2

And if any think ... - The connection and the scope of this passage require us to understand this as designed to condemn that vain conceit of knowledge, or self-confidence, which would lead us to despise others, or to disregard their interests. “If anyone is conceited of his knowledge, is so vain, and proud, and self-confident, that he is led to despise others, and to disregard their true interests, he has not yet learned the very first elements of true knowledge as he ought to learn them, True knowledge will make us humble, modest, and kind to others. It will not puff us up, and it will not lead us to overlook the real happiness of others.” See Romans 11:25.

Any thing - Any matter pertaining to science, morals, philosophy, or religion. This is a general maxim pertaining to all pretenders to knowledge.

He knoweth nothing yet ... - He has not known what is most necessary to be known on the subject; nor has he known the true use and design of knowledge, which is to edify and promote the happiness of others. If a man has not so learned anything as to make it contribute to the happiness of others, it is a proof that he has never learned the true design of the first elements of knowledge. Paul’s design is to induce them to seek the welfare of their brethren. Knowledge, rightly applied, will promote the happiness of all. And it is true now as it was then, that if a man is a miser in knowledge as in wealth; if he lives to accumulate, never to impart; if he is filled with a vain conceit of his wisdom, and seeks not to benefit others by enlightening their ignorance, and guiding them in the way of truth, he has never learned the true use of science, any more than the man has of wealth who always hoards, never gives. It is valueless unless it is diffused, as the light of heaven would be valueless unless diffused all over the world, and the waters would be valueless if always preserved in lakes and reservoirs, and never diffused over hills and vales to refresh the earth.

Verse 3

But if any man love God - If any man is truly attached to God; if he seeks to serve him, and to promote his glory. The sense seems to be this. “There is no true and real knowledge which is not connected with love to God. This will prompt a man also to love his brethren, and will lead him to promote their happiness. A man’s course, therefore, is not to be regulated by mere knowledge, but the grand principle is love to God and love to man. Love edifies; love promotes happiness; love will prompt to what is right; and love will secure the approbation of God.” Thus, explained. this difficult verse accords with the whole scope of the parenthesis, which is to show that a man should not be guided in his contact with others by mere knowledge, however great that may be; but that a safer and better principle was “love, charity” (ἀγάπη agapē), whether exercised toward God or man. Under the guidance of this, man would be in little danger of error, Under the direction of mere knowledge he would never be sure of a safe guide; see 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.

The same is known of him - The words “is known” (ἔγνωσται egnōstai) I suppose to be taken here in the sense of “is approved by God; is loved by him; meets with his favor, etc.” In this sense the word “known” is often used in the Scriptures. See the note at Matthew 7:23. The sense is, “If any man acts under the influence of sacred charity, or love to God, and consequent love to man, he will meet with the approbation of God. He will seek his glory, and the good of his brethren; he will be likely to do right; and God will approve of his intentions and desires, and will regard him as his child. Little distinguished, therefore, as he may be for human knowledge, for that science which puffs up with vain self-confidence, yet he will have a more truly elevated rank, and will meet with the approbation and praise of God. This is of more value than mere knowledge, and this love is a far safer guide than any mere intellectual attainments.” So the world would have found it to be if they had acted on it; and so Christians would always find it.

Verse 4

As concerning therefore ... - The parenthesis closes with 1 Corinthians 8:3. The apostle now proceeds to the real question in debate, and repeats in this verse the question, and the admission that all had knowledge. The admission that all had knowledge proceeds through 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; and in 1 Corinthians 8:7 he gives the answer to it. In 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 everything is admitted by Paul which they asked in regard to the real extent of their knowledge on this subject; and in 1 Corinthians 8:7 he shows that even on the ground of this admission, the conclusion would not follow that it was right to partake of the food offered in sacrifice in the temple of an idol.

The eating of those things ... - Whether it is right to eat them. Here the question is varied somewhat from what it was in 1 Corinthians 8:1, but substantially the same inquiry is stated. The question was, whether it was right for Christians to eat the meat of animals that had been slain in sacrifice to idols.

We know - 1 Corinthians 8:1. We Corinthians know; and Paul seems fully to admit that they had all the knowledge which they claimed, 1 Corinthians 8:7. But his object was to show that even admitting that, it would not follow that it would be right to partake of that meat. It is well to bear in mind that the object of their statement in regard to knowledge was, to show that there could be no impropriety in partaking of the food. This argument the apostle answers in 1 Corinthians 8:7.

That an idol is nothing - Is not the true God; is not a proper object of worship. We are not so stupid as to suppose that the block of wood, or the carved image, or the chiseled marble is a real intelligence and is conscious and capable of receiving worship, or benefiting its volaries. We fully admit, and know, that the whole thing is delusive; and there can be no danger that, by partaking of the food offered in sacrifice to them, we should ever be brought to a belief of the stupendous falsehood that they are true objects of worship, or to deny the true God. There is no doubt that the more intelligent pagan had this knowledge; and doubtless nearly all Christians possessed it, though a few who had been educated in the grosser views of paganism might still have regarded the idol with a superstitious reverence, For whatever might have been the knowledge of statesmen and philosophers on the subject, it was still doubtless true that the great mass of the pagan world did regard the dumb idols as the proper objects of worship, and supposed that they were inhabited by invisible spirits - the gods. For purposes of state, and policy, and imposition, the lawgivers and priests of the pagan world were careful to cherish this delusion; see 1 Corinthians 8:7.

Is nothing - Is delusive; is imaginary. There may have been a reference here to the name of an idol among the Hebrews. They called idols אלילים 'ĕlı̂yliym (Elilim), or in the singular אליל 'ĕlı̂yl (Elil}, vain, null, nothingworth, nothingness, vanity, weakness, etc.; indicating their vanity and powerlessness; Leviticus 26:1; 1 Chronicles 16:26; Isaiah 2:8; Isaiah 10:10; Isaiah 19:11, Isaiah 19:13, Isaiah 19:20; Isaiah 31:7; Psalms 90:5; Ezekiel 30:13; Habakkuk 2:18; Zechariah 11:17, etc.

In the world - It is nothing at all; it has no power over the world; no real existence anywhere. There are no such gods as the pagans pretend to worship. There is but one God; and that fact is known to us all. The phrase “in the world” seems to be added by way of emphasis, to show the utter nothingness of idols; to explain in the most emphatic manner the belief that they had no real existence.

And that there is none other God but one - This was a great cardinal truth of religion; see the note at Mark 12:29; compare Deuteronomy 6:4-5. To keep this great truth in mind was the grand object of the Jewish economy; and this was so plain, and important, that the Corinthians supposed that it must be admitted by all. Even though they should partake of the meat that was offered in sacrifice to idols, yet they supposed it was not possible that any of them could forget the great cardinal truth that there was but one God.

Verse 5

That are called gods - Gods so called. The pagans everywhere worshipped multitudes, and gave to them the name of gods.

Whether in heaven - Residing in heaven, as a part of the gods were supposed to do. Perhaps, there may be allusion here to the sun, moon, and stars; but I rather suppose that reference is made to the celestial deities, or to those who were supposed to reside in heaven, though they were supposed occasionally to visit the earth, as Jupiter, Juno, Mercury, etc.

Or in earth - Upon the earth; or that reigned particularly ever the earth, or sea, as Ceres, Neptune, etc. The ancient pagans worshipped some gods that were supposed to dwell in heaven; others that were supposed to reside on earth; and others that presided over the inferior regions, as Pluto, etc.

As there be gods many - ὥσπερ hōsper, etc. As there are, in fact, many which are so called or regarded. It is a fact that the pagans worship many whom they esteem to be gods, or whom they regard as such. This cannot be an admission of Paul that they were truly gods, and ought to he worshipped; but it is a declaration that they esteemed them to be such, or that a large number of imaginary beings were thus adored. The emphasis should be placed on the word “many;” and the design of the parenthesis is, to show that the number of these that were worshipped was not a few, but was immense; and that they were in fact worshipped as gods, and allowed to have the influence over their minds and lives which they would have if they were real; that is, that the effect of this popular belief was to produce just as much fear, alarm, superstition, and corruption, as though these imaginary gods had a real existence. So that though the more intelligent of the pagan put no confidence in them, yet the effect on the great mass was the same as if they had had a real existence, and exerted over them a real control.

And lords many - (κύριοι πολλοὶ kurioi polloi). Those who had a “rule” over them; to whom they submitted themselves; and whose laws they obeyed. This name “lord” was often given to their idol gods. Thus, among the nations of Canaan their idols was called בּצל Ba‛al, (“Baal, or lord”), the tutelary god of the Phoenicians and Syrians; Judges 8:33; Judges 9:4, Judges 9:46. It is used here with reference to the IdoLS, and means that the laws which they were supposed to give in regard to their worship had control over the minds of their worshippers.

Verse 6

But to us - Christians. We acknowledge but one God, Whatever the pagan worship, we know that there is but one God; and he alone has a right to rule over us.

One God, the Father - Whom we acknowledge as the Father of all; Author of all things; and who sustains to all his works the relation of a father. The word “Father” here is not used as applicable to the first person of the Trinity, as distinguished from the second, but is applied to God as God; not as the Father in contradistinction from the Son, but to the divine nature as such, without reference to that distinction - the Father as distinguished from his offspring, the works that owe their origin to him. This is manifest:

(1) Because the apostle does not use the correlative term” Son” when he comes to speak of the “one Lord Jesus Christ;” and,

(2) Because the scope of the passage requires it. The apostle speaks of God, of the divine nature, the one infinitely holy Being, as sustaining the relation of Father “to his creatures.” He produced them, He provides for them. He protects them, as a father does his children. He regards their welfare; pities them in their sorrows; sustains them in trial; shows himself to be their friend. The name “Father” is thus given frequently to God, as applicable to the one God, the divine Being; Psalms 103:13; Jeremiah 31:9; Malachi 1:6; Malachi 2:10; Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2, etc. In other places it is applied to the first person of the Trinity as distinguished from the second; and in these instances the correlative “Son” is used, Luke 10:22; Luke 22:42; John 1:18; John 3:35; John 5:19-23, John 5:26, John 5:30, John 5:36; Heb 1:5; 2 Peter 1:17, etc.

Of whom - ἐξ οὗ ex hou. From whom as a fountain and source; by whose counsel, plan, and purpose. He is the great source of all; and all depend on him. It was by his purpose and power that all things were formed, and to all he sustains the relation of a Father. The agent in producing all things, however, was the Son, Colossians 1:16; see the note at John 1:3.

Are all things - These words evidently refer to the whole work of creation, as deriving their origin from God, Genesis 1:1. Everything has thus been formed in accordance with his plan; and all things now depend on him as their Father.

And we - We Christians. We are what we are by him. We owe our existence to him; and by him we have been regenerated and saved. It is owing to his counsel, purpose, agency, that we have an existence; and owing to him that we have the hope of eternal life. The leading idea here is, probably, that to God Christians owe their hopes and happiness.

In him - (εἰς αὐτόν eis auton); or rather unto him: that is, we are formed for him, and should live to his glory. We have been made what we are, as Christians, that we may promote his honor and glory.

And one Lord ... - One Lord in contradistinction from the “many lords” whom the pagans worshipped. The word “Lord” here is used in the sense of proprietor, ruler, governor, or king; and the idea is, that Christians acknowledge subjection to Him alone, and not to many sovereigns, as the pagans did. Jesus Christ is the Ruler and Lord of his people. They acknowledge their allegiance to him as their supreme Lawgiver and King. They do not acknowledge subjection to many rulers, whether imaginary gods or human beings; but receive their laws from him alone. The word “Lord” here does not imply of necessity any inferiority to God; since it is a term which is frequently applied to God himself. The idea in the passage is, that from God, the Father of all, we derive our existence, and all that we have; and that we acknowledge “immediate and direct” subjection to the Lord Jesus as our Lawgiver and Sovereign. From him Christians receive their laws, and to him they submit their lives. And this idea is so far from supposing inferiority in the Lord Jesus to God, that it rather supposes equality; since a right to give laws to people, to rule their consciences, to direct their religious opinions and their lives, can appropriately pertain only to one who has equality with God.

By whom ... - δἰ οὗ di' hou. By whose “agency;” or through whom, as the agent. The word “by” (δι ̓ di') stands in contradistinction from “of” (ἐξ ex) in the former part of the verse; and obviously means, that, though “all things” derived their existence from God as the fountain and author, yet it was “by” the agency of the Lord Jesus. This doctrine, that the Son of God was the great agent in the creation of the world, is elsewhere abundantly taught in the Scriptures; see the note at John 1:3.

Are all things - The universe; for so the phrase τὰ πάντα ta panta properly means. No words could better express the idea of the universe than these; and the declaration is therefore explicit that the Lord Jesus created all things. Some explain this of the “new creation;” as if Paul had said that all things pertaining to our salvation were from him. But the objections to this interpretation are obvious:

(1) It is not the natural signification.

(2) The phrase “all things” naturally denotes the universe.

(3) The scope of the passage requires us so to understand it. Paul is not speaking of the new creature; but he is speaking of the question whether there is more than one God, one Creator, one Ruler over the wide universe. The pagan said there was; Christians affirmed that there was not. The scope, therefore, of the passage requires us to understand this of the vast material universe; and the obvious declaration here is, that the Lord Jesus was the Creator of all.

And we - We Christians 1 Peter 1:21; or, we as people; we have derived our existence “by” δι ̓ di' or “through” him. The expression will apply either to our original creation, or to our hopes of heaven, as being by him; and is equally true respecting both. Probably the idea is, that all that we have, as people and as Christians, our lives and our hopes, are through him and by his agency.

By him - δι ̓ αὐτόυ di' autou. By his agency. Paul had said, in respect to God the Father of all, that we were unto εἰς eis him; he here says that in regard to the Lord Jesus, we are by διά dia Him, or by His agency. The sense is, “God is the author, the former of the plan; the Source of being and of hope; and we are to live to Him: but Jesus is the agent by whom all these things are made, and through whom they are conferred on us.” Arians and Socinians have made use of this passage to prove that the Son was inferior to God; and the argument is, that the “name” God is not given to Jesus, but another name implying inferiority; and that the design of Paul was to make a distinction between God and the Lord Jesus. It is not the design of these notes to examine opinions in theology; but in reply to this argument we may observe, briefly:

(1) That those who hold to the divinity of the Lord Jesus do not deny that there is a distinction between him and the Father: they fully admit and maintain it, both in regard to his eternal existence (that is, that there is an eternal distinction of persons in the Godhead) and in regard to his office as mediator.

(2) The term “Lord,” given here, does not of necessity suppose that he is inferior to God.

(3) The design of the passage supposes that there was equality in some respects. God the Father and the Lord Jesus sustain relations to people that in some sense correspond to the “many gods” and the “many lords” that the pagan adored; but they were equal in nature.

(4) The work of creation is expressly in this passage ascribed to the Lord Jesus. But the work of creation cannot be performed by a creature. There can be no delegated God, and no delegated omnipotence, or delegated infinite wisdom and omnipresence. The work of creation implies divinity; or it is impossible to prove that there is a God; and if the Lord Jesus made “all things,” he must be God.

Verse 7

Howbeit - But. In the previous verses Paul had stated the argument of the Corinthians - that they all knew that an idol was nothing; that they worshipped but one God; and that there could be no danger of their falling into idolatry, even should they partake of the meat offered in sacrifice to idols. Here he replies, that though this might be generally true, yet it was not universally; for that some were ignorant on this subject, and supposed that an idol had a real existence, and that to partake of that meat would be to confirm them in their superstition. The inference therefore is, that on their account they should abstain; see 1 Corinthians 8:11-13.

There is not ... - There are some who are weak and ignorant; who have still remains of pagan opinions and superstitious feelings.

That knowledge - That there is but one God; and that an idol is nothing.

For some with conscience of the idol - From conscientious regard to the idol; believing that an idol god has a real existence; and that his favor should be sought, and his wrath be deprecated. It is not to be supposed that converted people would regard idols as the only God; but they might suppose that they were intermediate beings, good or bad angels, and that it was proper to seek their favor or avert their wrath. We are to bear in mind that the pagan were exceedingly ignorant; and that their former notions and superstitious feelings about the gods whom their fathers worshipped, and whom they had adored, would not soon leave them even on their conversion to Christianity. This is just one instance, like thousands, in which former erroneous opinions, prejudices, or superstitious views may influence those who are truly converted to God, and greatly mar and disfigure the beauty and symmetry of their religious character.

Eat it as a thing ... - As offered to an idol who was entitled to adoration; or as having a right to their homage. They supposed that some invisible spirit was present with the idol; and that his favor should be sought, or his wrath averted by sacrifice.

And their conscience being weak - Being unenlightened on this subject; and being too weak to withstand the temptation in such a case. Not having a conscience sufficiently clear and strong to enable them to resist the temptation; to overcome all their former prejudices and superstitious feelings; and to act in an independent manner, as if an idol were nothing. Or their conscience was morbidly sensitive and delicate on this subject, they might be disposed to do right, and yet not have sufficient knowledge to convince them that an idol was nothing, and that they ought not to regard it.

Is defiled - Polluted; contaminated. By thus countenancing idolatry he is led into sin, and contracts guilt that will give him pain when his conscience becomes more enlightened; 1 Corinthians 8:11, 1 Corinthians 8:13. From superstitious reverence of the idol, he might think that he was doing right; but the effect would be to lead him to conformity to idol worship that would defile his conscience, pollute his mind, and ultimately produce the deep and painful conviction of guilt. The general reply, therefore, of Paul to the first argument in favor of partaking of the meat offered in sacrifice to idols is, that all Christians have not full knowledge on the subject; and that to partake of that might lead them into the sin of idolatry, and corrupt and destroy their souls.

Verse 8

But meat commendeth us not to God - This is to be regarded as the view presented by the Corinthian Christians, or by the advocates for partaking of the meat offered in sacrifice to idols. The sense is, “Religion is of a deeper and more spiritual nature than a mere regard to circumstances like these. God looks at the heart. He regards the motives, the thoughts, the moral actions of people. The mere circumstance of eating ‘meat,’ or abstaining from it, cannot make a man better or worse in the sight of a holy God. The acceptable worship of God is not placed in such things. It is more spiritual; more deep; more important. And therefore, the inference is, “it cannot be a matter of much importance whether a man eats the meat offered in sacrifice to idols, or abstains.” To this argument the apostle replies 1 Corinthians 8:9-13, that, although this might be true in itself, yet it might be the occasion of leading others into sin, and it would then become a matter of great importance in the sight of God, and should be in the sight of all true Christians. The word “commendeth” παράστησι parastēsi means properly to introduce to the favor of anyone, as a king or ruler; and here means to recommend to the favor of God. God does not regard this as a matter of importance. He does not make his favor depend on unimportant circumstances like this.

Neither if we eat - If we partake of the meat offered to idols.

Are we the better - Margin, “Have we the more.” Greek Do we abound περισσεύομεν perisseuomen; that is, in moral worth or excellence of character; see the note at Revelation 14:17.

Are we the worse - Margin, “Have we the less.” Greek, Do we lack or want (ὑστερούμεθα husteroumetha); that is, in moral worth or excellence.

Verse 9

But take heed - This is the reply of Paul to the argument of the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 8:8. “Though all that you say should be admitted to be true, as it must be; though a man is neither morally better nor worse for partaking of meat or abstaining from it; yet the grand principle to be observed is, so to act as not to injure your brethren. Though you may be no better or worse for eating or not eating, yet if your conduct shall injure others, and lead them into sin, that is a sufficient guide to determine you what to do in the case. You should abstain entirely. It is of far more importance that your brother should not be led into sin, than it is that you should partake of meat which you acknowledge 1 Corinthians 8:8 is in itself of no importance.”

Lest by any means - μή πως mē pōs. You should be careful that by no conduct of yours your brother be led into sin. This is a general principle that is to regulate Christian conduct in all matters that are in themselves indifferent.

This liberty of yours - This which you claim as a right; this power which you have, and the exercise of which is in itself lawful. The “liberty” or power ἐξουσία exousia here referred to was that of partaking of the meat that was offered in sacrifice to idols; 1 Corinthians 8:8. A man may have a right abstractly to do a thing, but it may not be prudent or wise to exercise it.

Become a stumbling-block - An occasion of sin; see the note at Matthew 5:29; also see the note at Romans 14:13. See that it be not the occasion of leading others to sin, and to abandon their Christian profession; 1 Corinthians 8:10.

To them that are weak - To those professing Christians who are not fully informed or instructed in regard to the true nature of idolatry, and who still may have a superstitious regard for the gods whom their fathers worshipped.

Verse 10

For if any man - Any Christian brother who is ignorant, or anyone who might otherwise become a Christian.

Which hast knowledge - Who are fully informed in regard to the real nature of idol worship. You will be looked up to as an example. You will be presumed to be partaking of this feast in honor of the idol. You will thus encourage him, and he will partake of it with a conscientious regard to the idol.

Sit at meat - Sitting down to an entertainment in the temple of the idol. Feasts were often celebrated, as they are now among the pagan, in honor of idols. Those entertainments were either in the temple of the idol, or at the house of him who gave it.

Shall not the conscience of him which is weak - Of the man who is not fully informed, or who still regards the idol with superstitious feelings; see 1 Corinthians 8:7.

Be emboldened - Margin, “Edified” οἰκοδομηθήσεται oikodomēthēsetai. Confirmed; established. So the word “edify” is commonly used in the New Testament; Acts 9:31; Romans 14:19; Ephesians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:11. The sense here is, “Before this he had a superstitious regard for idols. He had the remains of his former feelings and opinions. But he was not established in the belief that an idol was anything; and his superstitious feelings were fast giving way to the better Christian doctrine that they were nothing. But now, by your example, he will be fully confirmed in the belief that an idol is to be regarded with respect and homage. He will see you in the very temple, partaking of a feast in honor of the idol; and he will infer not only that it is right, but that it is a matter of conscience with you, and will follow your example.”

Verse 11

And through thy knowledge - Because you knew that an idol was nothing, and that there could be really no danger of falling into idolatry from partaking of these entertainments. You will thus be the means of deceiving and destroying him. The argument of the apostle here is, that if This was to be the result, the duty of those who had this knowledge was plain.

Shall the weak brother - The uninformed and ignorant Christian. That it means real Christian there can be no doubt. Because:

(1) It is the usual term by which Christians are designated - the endearing name of “brother;” and,

(2) The scope of the passage requires it so to be understood; see the note at Romans 14:20.

Perish - Be destroyed; ruined; lost; see the note at John 10:28. So the word ἀπολεῖται apoleitai properly and usually signifies. The sense is, that the tendency of this course would be to lead the weak brother into sin, to apostasy, and to ruin. But this does not prove that any who were truly converted should apostatize and be lost; for:

(1) There may be a tendency to a thing, and yet that thing may never happen. It may be arrested, and the event not occur.

(2) The warning designed to prevent it may be effectual, and be the means of saving. A man in a canoe floating down the Niagara river may have a tendency to go over the falls; but he may be hailed from the shore, and the hailing may be effectual, and he may be saved. The call to him was designed to save him, and actually had that effect. So it may be in the warnings to Christians.

(3) The apostle does not say that any true Christian would be lost. He puts a question; and affirms that if “one” thing was done, “another might” follow. But this is not affirming that anyone would be lost. So I might say that if the man continued to float on toward the falls of Niagara, he would be destroyed. If one thing was done, the other would be a consequence. But this would be very different from a statement that a man “had actually” gone over the falls, and been lost.

(4) It is elsewhere abundantly proved that no one who has been truly converted will apostatize and be destroyed; see the notes at John 10:28; compare the note at Romans 8:29-30.

For whom Christ died - This is urged as an argument why we should not do anything that would tend to destroy the souls of people. And no stronger argument could be used. The argument is, that we should not do anything that would tend to frustrate the work of Christ, that would render the shedding of his blood vain. The possibility of doing this is urged; and that bare possibility should deter us from a course of conduct that might have this tendency. It is an appeal drawn from the deep and tender love, the sufferings, and the dying groans of the Son of God. If He endured so much to save the soul, assuredly we should not pursue a course that would tend to destroy it. If he denied himself so much to redeem, we should not, assuredly, be so fond of self-gratification as to be unwilling to abandon anything that would tend to destroy.

Verse 12

But when ye sin so against the brethren - This is designed further to show the evil of causing others to sin; and hence, the evil which might arise from partaking of the meat offered to idols. The word sin here is to be taken in the sense of “injuring, offending, leading into sin.” You violate the law which requires you to love your brethren, and to seek their welfare, and thus you sin against them. Sin is properly against God; but there may be a course of injury pursued against people, or doing them injustice or wrong, and this is sin against them. Christians are bound to do right toward all.

And wound their weak conscience - The word “wound” here (τύπτοντες tuptontes, “smiting, beating”) is taken in the sense of injure. Their consciences are ill-informed. They have not the knowledge which you have. And by your conduct they are led further into error, and believe that the idol is something, and is to be honored. They are thus led into sin, and their conscience is more and more perverted, and oppressed more and more with a sense of guilt.

Ye sin against Christ - Because:

(1) Christ has commanded you to love them, and seek their good, and not to lead them into sin, and,

(2) Because they are so intimately united to Christ (see the notes at John 15:1 ff) that to offend them is to offend him; to injure the members is to injure the head; to destroy their souls is to pain his heart and to injure his cause; see the note at Matthew 10:40; compare Luke 10:16.

Verse 13

This chapter is very important, as it settles some principles in regard to the conduct of Christians; and shows how they should act in reference to things that are indifferent; or which in themselves can be considered as neither right nor wrong; and in reference to those things which may be considered in themselves as “right and lawful,” but whose indulgence might injure others. And from the chapter we learn:

1. That Christians, though they are truly converted, yet may have many erroneous views and feelings in reference to many things, 1 Corinthians 8:6. This was true of those converted from ancient paganism, and it is true of those who are now converted from paganism, and of all young converts. Former opinions, and prejudices, and even superstitions, abide long in the mind, and cast a long and withering influence ever the regions of Christian piety. The morning dawn is at first very obscure. The change from night to daybreak is at first scarcely perceptible. And so it may be in conversion. The views which a pagan entertained from his childhood could not at once be removed. The influence of corrupt opinions and feelings, which a sinner has long indulged, may “travel over” in his conversion, and may long endanger his piety and destroy his peace. Corrupt and infidel thoughts, associations of pollution, cannot be destroyed at once; and we are not to expect from a child in the Christian life, the full vigor, and the elevated principle, and the strength to resist temptation, which we expect of the man matured in the service of the Lord Jesus. This should lead us to charity in regard to the imperfections and failings of young converts; to a willingness to aid and counsel them; to carefulness not to lead them into sin; and it should lead us not to expect the same amount of piety, zeal, and purity in converts from degraded pagans, which we expect in Christian lands, and where converts have been trained up under all the advantages of Sunday Schools and Bible classes.

2. Our opinions should be formed, and our treatment of others regulated, not by abstract knowledge, but by love, 1 Corinthians 8:1. A man is usually much more likely to act right who is influenced by charity and love, than one who is guided by simple knowledge, or by self-confidence. One is humble, kind, tender toward the frailties of others, sensible himself of infirmity, and is disposed to do right; the other may be vain, harsh, censorious, unkind, and severe. Knowledge is useful; but for the practical purposes of life, in an erring and fallen world, love is more useful; and while the one often leads astray, the other seldom errs. Whatever knowledge we may have, we should make it a point from which we are never to depart, that our opinions of others, and our treatment of them, should be formed under the influence of love.

3. We should not be self-confident of our wisdom, 1 Corinthians 8:2. Religion produces humility. Mere knowledge may fill the heart with pride and vanity. True knowledge is not inconsistent with humility; but it must be joined with a heart that is right. The people that have been most eminent in knowledge have also been distinguished for humility; but the heart was right; and they saw the folly of depending on mere knowledge.

4. There is but one God, 1 Corinthians 8:4-6. This great truth lies at the foundation of all true religion; and yet is so simple that it may be known by all Christians, however humble, and is to be presumed to be known by all. But though simple, it is a great and glorious truth. To keep this before the minds of people was one great purpose of all God’s revelations; and to communicate it to people is now the grand object of all missionary enterprises. The world is full of idols and idolaters; but the knowledge of this simple truth would change the moral aspect of the entire globe. To spread this truth should be the great aim and purpose of all true Christians; and when this truth is spread, the idols of the pagan will fall to the dust.

5. Christians acknowledge one and only one Lord, 1 Corinthians 8:6. He rules over them. His laws bind them. He controls them. He has a right to them. He can dispose of them as he pleases. They are not their own; but are bound to live entirely to him, and for the promotion of his cause.

6. It becomes Christians to exercise continual care, lest their conduct, even in things which are in themselves lawful, should be the occasion of leading others into sin, 1 Corinthians 8:9. Christians very often pursue a course of conduct which may not be in itself unlawful, but which may lead others who have not their intelligence, or strength of principle, into error. One man may be safe where another man is in danger. One man may be able to resist temptations which would entirely overcome another. A course of life may, perhaps, be safe for a man of years and of mature judgment, which would he ruinous to a young man. And the grand principle here should be, not to do that, even though it may be lawful itself, which would he the occasion of leading others into sin.

7. We see here the importance and the power of example, 1 Corinthians 8:10-11. Nothing is of more value than a correct Christian example. And this applies particularly to those who are in the more elevated ranks of life, who occupy stations of importance, who are at the head of families, colleges, and schools. The ignorant will be likely to follow the example of the learned; the poor of the rich; those in humble life will imitate the manners of the great. Even in things, therefore, which may not he in themselves unlawful in these circumstances, they should set an example of self-denial, of plainness, of abstinence, for the sake of those beneath them. They should so live that it would be safe and right for all to imitate their example. Christ, though he was rich, yet so lived that all may safely imitate him; though he was honored of God, and exalted to the highest office as the Redeemer of the world, yet he lived so that all in every rank may follow him; though he had all power, and was worshipped by angels, yet so lived that he might teach the most humble and lowly how to live; and so lived that it is safe and proper for all to live as he did. So should every monarch, and prince, and rich man; every noble, and every learned man; every man of honor and office; every master of a family, and every man of age and wisdom, live that all others may learn of them how to live, and that they may safely walk in their footsteps.

8. We have here a noble instance of the principles on which Paul was willing to act, 1 Corinthians 8:13. He was willing to deny himself of any gratification, if his conduct was likely to be the occasion of leading others into sin. Even from that which was in itself lawful he would abstain forever, if by indulgence he would be the occasion of another’s falling into transgression. But how rare is this virtue! How seldom is it practiced! How few Christians and Christian ministers are there who deny themselves any gratification in things in themselves right, lest they should induce others to sin! And yet this is the grand principle of Christianity; and this should influence and guide all the professed friends and followers of Christ. This “principle” might be applied to many things in which many Christians now freely indulge; and if applied, would produce great and important changes in society:

(1) Entertainments and feasts which, perhaps, you may be able to “afford” (that is, “afford” in the supposition that what you have is “yours,” and not the Lord’s), may lead many of those who cannot afford it to imitate you, and to involve themselves in debt, in extravagance, in ruin.

(2) You might possibly be safe at a festival, at a public dinner, or in a large party; but your example would encourage others where they would not be safe; and yet, how could you reply should they say that you were there, and that they were encouraged by you?

(3) On the supposition that the use of wine and other fermented liquors may be in themselves lawful, and that you might be safe in using them, yet others may be led by your example to an improper use of them, or contract a taste for stimulating drinks that may end in their ruin. Would it be right for “you” to continue the use of wine in such circumstances? Would Paul have done it? Would he not have adopted the noble principle in this chapter, that he would not touch it while the world stands, if it led him to sin?

(4) You might be safe in a party of amusement, in the circle of the joyful, and in scenes of merriment and mirth. I say you might be, though the supposition is scarcely possible that Christian piety is ever safe in such scenes, and though it is certain that Paul or the Saviour would not have been found there. But how will it be for the young, and for those of less strength of Christian virtue? Will they be safe there? Will they be able to guard against these allurements as you could? Will they not be led into the love of gaiety, vanity, and folly? And what would Paul have done in such cases? What would Jesus Christ have done? What should Christians now do? This single principle, if fairly applied, would go far to change the aspect of the Christian world. If all Christians had Paul’s delicate sensibilities, and Paul’s strength of Christian virtue, and Paul’s willingness to deny himself to benefit others, the aspect of the Christian world would soon change. How many practices now freely indulged in would be abandoned! And how soon would every Christian be seen to set such an example that all others could safely follow it!

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.