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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 8

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-13

VIII 1-XI 1 Social Intercourse with Pagans — This is the real scope of the third large section of the letter, though it deals primarily only with the question: May a Christian eat food which has been offered to pagan gods? Paul’s answer is: Yes, provided it can be done without injury to two Christian duties: (1) The duty of consideration for over-scrupulous Christians (8:7-9:22). (2) The duty of vigilant avoidance of any participation in pagan worship (9:23-10:13). Paul ends by giving some detailed directions (10:1411:1). The primary question itself is of no practical importance to us, but the principles invoked by Paul are eternal and living. Passion, sternness, and irony appear again, and we hear of Christians hostile to himself (9:3)—signs, as it seems, that the party of the False Apostles is involved, § 865 and note on 8:1-6.

It was a question of great importance to the Corinthian Christians. Sacrificial meat would be served at all public dinners and at many, perhaps most, private dinner-parties given by pagans (see § 600h). A Christian slave in a pagan household would often be offered such meat, and holders of public offices would be expected on certain ceremonial occasions not only to eat it but to take part in the sacrifice. Were Christians absolutely bound to abstention, which might often involve refusing a friend’s invitation, angering a master, etc.? Were they bound to avoid butchers who dealt in sacrificial meat? (See 10:25.)

VIII 1-6 The Argument for Complete Freedom to eat —It seems clear that this question had been put to St Paul in the letter from Corinth, and backed with this argument. We gather that there were many at Corinth who prided themselves on their enlightened and rational attitude towards paganism, their freedom from superstitious scruples. They used ’knowledge’ as a catchword, and probably also ’liberty’ and ’power’. Paul accepts their argument in itself, but shows that in applying it they offend against charity. It seems likely that the argument was put forth or encouraged by the False Apostles, and that they were pushing it very far, using it to justify participation in pagan worship. This seems to be hinted at in 10:7-8, 14-21.

1. ’Knowledge’: used with some irony throughout the chapter, most clear in vv 10-11. ’Edifieth’: ’builds up’, i.e. strengthens and enlarges our spiritual life. An OT expression often used by Paul, connected with the idea that the soul and the whole Church are God’s temple, cf. 3:9, 16. The contrast between knowledge and charity is finely set forth in 13:8-12

3. ’Known by him’ (God): in OT language, to be known by God means to be approved by him, e.g.Nahum 1:7—the knowledge that chiefly matters is God’s knowledge of us. 4. ’There is no idol in the world: ’Idol’ had come to be a synonym for ’heathen god therefore: ’No heathen god exists’. 5. ’For although there are so-called gods both in the sky (sun and moon, adored by pagans) and on the earth (i.e. the idols)’. 6. ’Unto him’: he is our goal, destination. ’By him’: probably refers to their regeneration by grace, cf.2 Corinthians 5:17, ’If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation’. Such is the argument. Its obvious conclusion, not stated here, is that the eating of sacrificial food is perfectly allowable. As heathen worship is all empty mummery, the food is just like any other food.

7-13 St Paul’s Objection and Contrary Decision —He allows the force of the above reasoning, but objects that they have overlooked Christ’s teaching about stumbling-blocks (skandala): that an act lawful in itself may become even a mortal sin if it is foreseen that it will place difficulties or temptations in the way of a weaker Christian. This springs from the new and higher law of charity taught by Christ, cf.Rom 14:115:6, written a few months after this.

7. According to the best texts: For some even now, from long habituation to the false god, eat it as a thing consecrated to him. They cannot shake off their ingrained awe of the god, they feel like men taking part in pagan worship and sinning against Christ.

8. ’Meat’: Food. ’have the more . . . less’: ’gain anything . . . lose anything’. He means that all ordinary food is morally indifferent—obviously he would exclude Holy Communion (11, 27-29).

9. ’Liberty’: ’power’, probably another catchword, cf. 9:12.

10. ’If a man sees you, who have knowledge, reclining at table in an idol-house’: i.e. at a dinner-party given after a sacrifice. ’Emboldened’: ’edified’, see 1. Intense irony, for the weak Christian will in fact be undermined, not built up: he will be encouraged to act against his (erroneous) conscience, and all acts against conscience are sinful.

11. ’Yes, and so, thanks to your knowledge, the weak man is lost, a brother for whom ’Christ died’.

13. ’Scandalize’: i.e. impel to sin. He is willing to become a vegetarian in order to smooth the way for weaker Christians.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/1-corinthians-8.html. 1951.
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