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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 8

Expositor's Dictionary of TextsExpositor's Dictionary

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Verses 1-13

1 Corinthians 8:1

This was a favourite text of Bacon's. Thus, in Valerius Terminus he observes: 'Evermore it must be remembered that the least part of knowledge passed to man by this so large charter from God must be subject to that use for which God hath granted it; which is the benefit and relief of the state and society of man; for otherwise all manner of knowledge becometh malign and serpentine, and therefore as carrying the quality of the serpent's sting and malice it maketh the mind of man to swell; as the Scripture saith excellently, knowledge floweth up, but charity buildeth up.' A similar application occurs in The Advancement of Learning (I. 3). Curiously enough, F. W. Robertson, in one of his letters, connects this very text with Bacon himself. After quoting it, he remarks: 'Cultivated understanding has no necessary connection with strengthened, much less purified, will, in which moral excellence lies, and in which alone Bacon was

The wisest, greatest, meanest of mankind.'

Compare Froude's remarks ( Short Studies, IV. pp. 268-269) upon Keble. If he 'had remained a quiet country clergyman, unconscious that he was a groat man, and uncalled on to guide the opinions of his age, he would have commanded perhaps more enduring admiration. The knot of followers who specially attached themselves to him, show traces of his influence in a disposition not only to think the views which they hold sound in themselves, but to regard those who think differently as their intellectual inferiors.'

This then is the prima-facie advantage of the pursuit of knowledge; it is the drawing the mind off from things which will harm it to subjects which are worthy a rational being; and, though it does not raise it above nature, nor has any tendency to make us pleasing to our Maker, yet is it nothing to substitute what is in itself harmless for what is, to say the least, inexpressibly dangerous? is it a little thing to exchange a circle of ideas which are certainly sinful, for others which are certainly not so? You will say, perhaps, in the words of the Apostle, 'Knowledge puffeth up': and doubtless this mental cultivation... may be from the first nothing more than the substitution of pride for sensuality. I grant it; but this is not a necessary result, it is but an incidental evil, a danger which may be realised or may be averted.

Newman, Idea of a University, p. 186.

Thinkers too often are apt to despise those who go through life without thinking. Thought is doubtless of high value; our first endeavour should be to think as often and as well as we can, but nevertheless we are wrong in believing that the possession, or the lack of a certain faculty for handling general ideas can actually separate men. After all, the difference between the greatest thinker and the humblest country yokel is often only the difference between a truth that at times finds expression, and another that never is able to crystallise into form.


References. VIII. 1. W. Richmond, A Lent in London, p. 41. Archbishop Benson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 136. Archbishop Magee, The Gospel and the Age, p. 241. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 129. Expositor (6th Series), vol. i. p. 93.

Knowledge and Love

1 Corinthians 8:1-3

Knowledge puffeth up, charity edifieth. Knowledge passeth away, charity abides for ever. Knowledge sees through coloured glass darkly, love sees face to face. Knowledge may be greatest in devils, love makes angels and saints. Knowledge is temporal and earthly, ever changing with the fashions of earth; love is Godlike, heavenly, immortal, enduring like the mercy of the Lord for ever. Thus Paul sings in diverse tones to one clear harp.

I. Now, if any other of the Apostles had written in this way about knowledge, men would have been found ready to quote against him the old fable of Æsop about the grapes. Untutored peasants and fishermen lifting up their voices in disparagement of knowledge would have furnished the intellectual scorner with a convenient sarcasm. Ah, yes, these men were ignorant. Singularly enough, however, it is St. Paul, the one learned man in the apostolic band, who talks in this way.

II. Knowledge puffeth up. Yes, from the raw schoolgirl to the man of greatest literary attainments, this is the effect of knowledge when it is found without the warm and generous and tender emotions of the heart Oh, how well did Paul express the jaunty airs and supercilious pride of loveless and unsanctified knowledge when he wrote these words, 'Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth'.

III. We are always boasting that knowledge is power, that knowledge has enriched the world, that knowledge has done wonderful things for humanity. It is the idlest of delusions. Knowledge by itself has done very little. Heart rather than head has given to humanity its noble inheritance; love rather than knowledge.

IV. And who are doing the best work in the world now its purifying, saving, uplifting work? Not the men who call themselves the cultured class. It is love, not knowledge, that generates all the power of sweet activities. It is to the pure, gentle, tender heart that God tells His secrets. And the loving heart, too, understands the mystery of sorrow and pain as the head does not and never can. The loving heart always knows what knowledge cannot tell it, that though the winter be here and the chill frosts of sorrow, yet behind the hills not far off are the flowers and fruits of an everlasting summer, and the sunny atmosphere of a love that can never die.

J. G. Greenhough, The Cross in Modern Life, p. 31.

References. VIII. 1-9. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 65. VIII. 1-13. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. ii. p. 374. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Corinthians, p. 125. VIII. 2. W. M. Sinclair, Christ and our Times, p. 63. T. Arnold, The Interpretation of Scripture, p. 204. VIII. 2, 3. Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 157. VIII. 4-6. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 39. VIII. 5. J. B. Lightfoot, Cambridge Sermons, p. 80. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 227. VIII. 6. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 65; ibid. vol. x. p. 40; ibid. (5th Series), vol. x. p. 425; ibid. (6th Series), p. 368. VIII. 9-13. W. H. Parr, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 344. VIII. 10. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ii. p. 431; ibid. vol. iii. p. 99. VIII. 11. W. C. E. Newbolt, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 13.

1 Corinthians 8:13

All other requisites are unimportant compared with this primary requisite, that each shall so live as neither to burden his fellows nor injure his fellows.

Spencer, Sociology (ch. xiv.).

References. VIII. 13. Asa Mahan, Penny Pulpit, No. 1487, p. 33. VIII. 29. J. Keble, Sermons for Easter to Ascension Day, p. 251. IX. 1. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 345; ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 146. IX. 1-6. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 269. IX. 5. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. v. p. 413; ibid. vol. vi. p. 223; ibid. vol. viii. p. 74; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. pp. 20, 40, 181. IX. 7, 11, 13, 14. W. M. Sinclair, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 172. IX. 9. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 213. IX. 10. G. L. Richardson, Sermons for Harvest, p. 40. IX. 11. Expositor (5th Series), vol. x. p. 196. IX. 14. F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 356. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 389; ibid. vol. xi. p. 45.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/1-corinthians-8.html. 1910.
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