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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

1 Corinthians 8

Verses 1-99

Ch. 8:1 13. The Question of Meats offered in Sacrifice to Idols

There is a great general similarity between this chapter and Romans 14:0 . 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 ver. 7. But this difference only brings out in stronger relief the identity of the principle, as laid down in ch. 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. 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 15:0 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. So Bp. Lightfoot, Commentary on Galatians , p. 308.

1 . as touching things offered unto idols ] These were the parts of the sacrifice not consumed by fire, but reserved, as in the Jewish peace-offerings (see Leviticus 7:15 , Leviticus 7:16 , Leviticus 7:22 :30), for the use of the priest and the worshipper. Sometimes (see ch. 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 these sacrifices was strictly forbidden. See also Revelation 2:14 . For a description of heathen sacrifices, see Homer, Iliad , Book 1. 606 13. Cf. also Horace, Odes iii. viii. 6, 7: “Voveram dulces epulas et album … caprum.”

we know that we all have knowledge ] Some have supposed a parenthesis commencing at ‘we all have knowledge,’ and including the whole passage between these words and ‘we know that an idol,’ &.c., in ver. 4, where the construction in ver. 1 is resumed. But it is better to regard the parenthesis as beginning at ‘Knowledge puffeth up,’ and extending thence to the end of ver. 3. These 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 ver. 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.’ ”

but charity edifieth ] Rather, love . So Tyndale. 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. To edify means to build up, a metaphor taken from the gradual building of a house ( aedes ), 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. 14:4, but it is more commonly used in the second. See ch. 14 throughout; Ephesians 4:12 , Ephesians 4:16 , &c., and note on ch. 3:17, 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 .’

2 . And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know ] We have knowledge, certainly, but it is by no means perfect knowledge. Cf. ch. 13:12. And therefore let us not presume to act upon our imperfect knowledge, as though we were ‘as gods, knowing good and evil;’ but let us give a thought to the condition of our neighbour, with whom we are conjoined by ties so close.

3 . But if any man love God, the same is known of him ] Cf. 1 John 4:7 , 1 John 4:8 . But it is observable that St Paul, dealing with inquisitive and argumentative people like the Corinthians and Galatians, takes care to invert the phrase, so as to exclude all glorying on the part of man. In Galatians 4:9 he corrects himself when speaking of knowing God, and in this Epistle, written afterwards, he seems carefully to avoid the expression, and to speak, both here and in ch. 13:12, rather of being known by God; So in St John 6:37 , John 6:44 , John 6:45 , John 6:65 , the same doctrine is taught by Christ Himself. “The knowledge of God presupposes the being known of Him: the soul will not vivify with life from above until God has drawn nigh.” Olshausen.

4 . we know that an idol is nothing in the world ] Some have rendered, that there is no idol in the world , but the rendering in the text gives the clearest sense; “A name without a thing, a mere figment of the human heart.” Estius.

5 . as there be gods many, and lords many ] The Apostle does not say there are many gods or lords, but only that the gods of the heathen are called so. Calvin reminds us that the sun and moon, which have been deified by some, are but our servants, and that other so-called gods of the heathen are but deified powers of nature, or deified men.

6 . to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things ] There is but one eternal First Cause and fountain of existence. Compare for the whole passage Ephesians 4:5 , Ephesians 4:6 . “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.

and we in him ] Rather, as margin, for Him .

by whom are all things ] God the Son, the Eternal Word or Reason of the Father, is the Agent by Whom He works in the creation, preservation, redemption, regeneration of all things. Cf. St John 1:3 , John 1:10 ; Ephesians 3:9 ; Colossians 1:10 ; Hebrews 1:2 .

7 . Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge ] See note on ver. 1.

for some with conscience of the idol ] Some editors read by familiarity with instead of with conscience of . If so, we must understand the passage of Gentile converts, who by long habit had become so accustomed to the idea of the personality of the idol that they could not shake it off. The words unto this hour confirm this reading. 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 conscience , 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.

and their conscience being weak is defiled ] He is mistaken in his idea that the idol has a real existence, but as long as he entertains that idea, he is bound to act up to it. Cf. Romans 15:14 , ‘To him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. See also vv . 20, 23 of the same chapter.

8 . But meat commendeth us not to God ] Rather, presenteth us . Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:14 ; Colossians 1:22 , Colossians 1:28 . The same word is used in Romans 14:10 (where it is translated stand , literally, be presented ). Cf. ch. 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?

9 . this liberty of yours ] Rather, right . Under ordinary circumstances we have a right to act upon our rational convictions. But this right has its limits, see ch. 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 an idol as having a real existence, and anything offered in sacrifice to it as its property, and therefore as unfit to be partaken of by Christians. 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.

become a stumblingblock to them that are weak ] “What reality is there in your religion if you look at men struggling in darkness, and are content to congratulate yourselves that you are m the light?… Slaves idolaters superstitious alas! is that all that we have to say?” Robertson.

10 . For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple ] St Paul would seem here to be putting an extreme case. He supposes the more enlightened believer to have carried his views of the non-existence of idols to their utmost possible limits, and to have seated himself in the idol temple, and partaken of the food which to his eyes is as fit for food as any other, if it be partaken of with thanksgiving (ch. 10:25 30; 1 Timothy 4:3 ). He points out the terrible danger such a man runs of inducing others to regard idol-worship as a thing indifferent, to relapse into idolatry and to ruin their souls. 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.

11 . shall the weak brother perish ] Some read, the weak brother is perishing . Cf. Romans 14:15 .

12 . ye sin against Christ ] Cf. St Matthew 25:40 , Matthew 25:45 . For the reason of this compare St John 17:0 throughout, as also such passages as Romans 12:5 ; Ephesians 1:23 , Ephesians 1:3 :17, Ephesians 1:4 :15, Ephesians 1:16 ; Colossians 2:19 ; and ch. 10:17, 12:17 of this Epistle, where the indwelling of Christ in the individual believer is taught.

13 . I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I 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 a stumbling-block in another’s way. Cf. St Matthew 18:6 ; St Mark 9:42 ; St Luke 17:1 , Luke 17:2 .

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