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Bible Commentaries

Godet's Commentary on Selected Books

1 Corinthians 8

Introduction

VI. The Use of Meats offered to Idols, and Participation in the Sacrificial Feasts. Chaps. 8-10.

The apostle passes to a new subject, which, like the preceding, seems to be suggested to him by the letter of the Corinthians, and belongs to the domain of Christian liberty. The believers of Corinth and the other Greek cities found themselves in a difficult position in regard to the heathen society around them. On the one hand, they could not absolutely give up their family and friendly relations; the interests of the gospel did not allow them to do so. On the other hand, these relations were full of temptations and might easily draw them into unfaithfulnesses, which would make them the scandal of the Church and the derision of the heathen. Among the most thorny points in this order of questions were invitations to take part in idolatrous banquets. The centre of ancient worships was the sacrifice; it was in this religious act that all the important events of domestic and social life culminated. As in Judaism (comp. Deuteronomy 27:7, the peace-offerings), these sacrifices were followed by a feast. All that remained of the victim's flesh, after the legs, enclosed in fat, and the entrails had been burned on the altar (see Edwards), and after the priest had received his portion, came back to the family which offered the sacrifice, and these consecrated meats were eaten either in the apartments or sacred wood belonging to the temple, or in the worshipper's house; sometimes, also, they were sold in the market. And as the sacrifice usually took place in connection with some joyful circumstance, relatives and friends were invited to the feast, among whom it might easily happen that there were Christians. So also, when those meats were sold in the market, a Christian might find himself exposed to the eating of them either at his own house or that of others.

Now various questions might be raised on this subject. And first of all, Is it allowable for a Christian to be present at a feast offered in the temple of an idol? Some, in the name of Christian liberty, answered: Yes! They boldly took advantage of the adage: All things are lawful for me (1 Corinthians 6:12, 1Co 10:23 ). Others said: No! for in such a region one subjects himself to the danger of malign and even diabolical influences. The scruples of the more timorous went further: Even in a private house, even in one's own house, is it not dangerous to eat of that meat which has figured on the idol's altar? Has it not contracted a defilement which may contaminate him who eats it? Not at all, answered others. For the gods of the heathen are only imaginary beings; meat offered on their altar is neither more nor less than ordinary meat.

The latter were certainly of the number of those who, at Corinth, called themselves Paul's disciples. Must we thence conclude, with Ewald and others, that the former were solely Christians of Jewish origin, who styled themselves Peter's disciples? There is nothing to prove this. It is even somewhat difficult to maintain, as we shall see, in view of certain passages of chap. 8, that these sticklers were mainly Christians of Jewish origin. Several commentators, last among them Holsten, rather regard those timid Christians, and rightly I think, as believers of Gentile origin, who could not free themselves all at once and completely from the idea in which they had lived from infancy, that of the reality and power of the divinities which they had worshipped. They might be confirmed in this view by the Jewish opinion, of which traces are found still later in the Church, that idols represented evil spirits. As to Jewish Christians, the passage Romans 14:0 shows that in any case we ought not to exclude them wholly. These were men whom the gospel had only as yet half freed from their national prejudices, particularly from that which held the heathen deities to be so many diabolical personalities.

The solution of these questions bristled with difficulties. The one party held strongly to their liberty, the other not less seriously to their scruples. The apostle must avoid favouring either superstition in the latter or libertinism in the former. He needed all his practical wisdom and all his love to trace a line of conduct on this subject which would be clear and fitted to unite hearts, instead of dividing them.

It has been asked why he did not here simply apply the decree of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:0), which called on the Gentile believers of Syria and Cilicia to give up the use of meats offered to idols, out of regard to the repugnance of Jewish Christians. And some have even gone the length of alleging the apostle's silence as an argument against the historical reality of the decree. But (1) this decree, from its very nature, could only have a temporary value, and it soon came out at Antioch, in connection with Peter's sojourn (Galatians 2:0), what practical difficulties stood in the way of its application. (2) At the time and in the circumstances in which Paul had accepted it, this apostle did not yet hold his normal position in the Church. His apostolical authority had just been recognised with difficulty by the apostles. In Syria and Cilicia he was not yet on his own domain, for it was not he who had founded the Church there. But it was now entirely different in Greece; and it would have been to derogate from his apostolical position, as well as from his evangelical spirituality, to resolve a question of Christian life by means of an external decree like an article of law. It was from the spirit of the gospel that, in virtue of his apostolical authority and wisdom, he must derive the decision which the Church needed. (3) It was the more important for Paul to act thus because he had above all at heart to form the conscience of the Corinthians themselves, and to educe spontaneously from it the view of the course to be followed: “I speak unto you as unto wise men; judge yourselves what I say” ( 1Co 10:15 ). It is precisely because of this method followed by the apostle that the discussion contained in these three chapters may still be so useful to us, though referring to wholly different circumstances. Paul on this occasion ascends to the first principles of Christian conduct, and we have only to gather them up to apply them to our own circumstances. (4) Finally, this subject presented a host of complications which could not be resolved by the summary decree of Acts 15:0, and which demanded a detailed examination.

The following is the order adopted by the apostle: He first treats the question by putting himself at the viewpoint of love. A Christian ought not to ask: What suits me best? but: What will most surely contribute to the salvation of my brethren? ( 1Co 8:1 to 1Co 9:22 ). Then the apostle passes to a second consideration: that of the salvation of the man himself who is called to act. He must take care while using his liberty not only not to destroy others, but also not to destroy himself ( 1Co 9:23 to 1Co 10:22 ). Finally, he concludes by recapitulating the whole discussion, and laying down some practical rules in regard to the different particular cases which might present themselves ( 1Co 10:23-33 ).

Verses 1-4

Vv. 1-4. “Now, as touching things offered to idols, we know that we all have knowledge, knowledge puffeth up, but love edifieth. 2. If any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. 3. But if any man love God, the same is known of Him 4. as concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no God but one.”

We might take the preposition περί , on the subject of, with its regimen as a sort of title: “As to what concerns consecrated meats....” In that case we must understand: “This is what I have to say to you;” comp. 1 Corinthians 7:1. But we might also make this preposition depend on the verb οἴδαμεν , we know, or finally, on the expression γνῶσιν ἔχομεν , we have knowledge; in this sense: “We know that on the subject of meats offered in sacrifice we all have knowledge.” In itself this last meaning might be suitable; but in 1 Corinthians 8:4, where the sentence is taken up again (after an interruption), the words: we have knowledge, are omitted, and the περί , on the subject of, can only be explained there, and consequently also in 1 Corinthians 8:1, in one of the two first meanings. The first construction is likewise set aside by 1 Corinthians 8:4, where the περί can only depend on the verb which follows it, οἴδαμεν , we know. We are thus perforce brought to the second construction: “On the subject of meats...we know.”

After such a verb as we know, it is more natural to give ὅτι the meaning of that, than the meaning of because. This sense is confirmed by 1 Corinthians 8:4, where it is evidently the only one possible.

Several (Flatt, etc.) have supposed that these first words: On the subject of...we know that..., were taken word for word by the apostle from the letter of the Corinthians. The most advanced members of the Church, they hold, expressed themselves thus: “We know that every one is sufficiently enlightened on this subject, and consequently we are perfectly free to use our liberty in the matter.” Paul afterwards shows ( 1Co 8:7 ), they continue, that this affirmation is far from being exact. But, if it were so, we must also ascribe to the Corinthians 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, which are a continuation of the sentence begun at 1 Corinthians 8:1; now it is evident that it is Paul who speaks in these verses. The subject of we know is therefore, first of all, Paul and Sosthenes, who address the letter, but at the same time the Corinthians, whom the authors include with them in the same category. Perhaps the Corinthians had written something similar to these opening words; and Paul chooses to emphasize it as his own affirmation: “Yes, undoubtedly, we know, as you love to repeat that...;” comp. the similar maxim reproduced by Paul, 1 Corinthians 6:11.

As this beginning of the sentence is taken up again, 1 Corinthians 8:4, it must necessarily be held that a parenthesis begins in 1Co 8:1 and continues to the end of 1 Corinthians 8:3. The only question is where this parenthesis begins. Luther, Bengel, Olshausen, Heinrici, Edwards, etc., think that it opens with the conj. ὅτι , to which they give the meaning because. We have already set aside this meaning of ὅτι , and we add that the following asyndeton: “knowledge puffeth up...,” would be far from natural so soon after the beginning of a parenthesis; two successive interruptions of the thought are inadmissible. The parenthesis therefore does not begin till the second proposition of the verse: “Knowledge puffeth up....”

All denotes in Paul's view all those who composed the Church. They had in baptism abjured the errors of polytheism, and accepted what the Church taught regarding the only true God. They had therefore all a certain measure of knowledge. How can Edwards go astray so far as to see in this πάντες , all, an allusion to the other apostles and to the decree of the Council of Jerusalem?

But, at this word knowledge, the apostle all at once stops short; and he gives himself up to a brief digression on the uselessness and nothingness of a certain kind of knowledge, as well as on the true nature of that for which this fair name should be reserved. “Knowledge, yes, every one has it; but when it is only in the head, and the heart is empty of love, knowledge produces only a vain inflation, presumption, vanity, lightness.” With this idea of inflation the apostle contrasts that of edification, that is to say, of a solid and growing building; fulness, that is, reality, in opposition to emptiness and appearance. Love alone can produce in him who knows, and, through him, in his brethren, serious moral progress. Love alone draws from God the real knowledge of Divine things, and teaches him who receives it to adapt it to the wants of his brethren.

Vv. 2. The asyndeton of 1 Corinthians 8:2 (the δέ of the T. R. should, it appears, be rejected) does not indicate a new interruption. It is that frequent asyndeton which announces the more emphatic reaffirmation of the previous thought: “Yes, that knowledge devoid of love and of power to edify, when we look at it more nearly, is not even a true knowledge.” The expression εἰ τὶς δοκεῖ , if any one thinketh he knoweth, indicates an empty pretence; real knowing, on the contrary, is denoted by the words, as he ought to know. The reading should certainly be, with almost all the Mjj., ἐγνωκέναι , instead of the εἰδέναι of T. R.; as Edwards says, the second of these terms signifies: to know a fact, while the former signifies: to be thoroughly acquainted with, to have penetrated the thing. Now this second meaning is the only one which is suitable here.

It matters little whether we read with the Alex. οὔπω , not yet, or with the Greco-Lat. and the Byz. οὐδέπω , not at all yet. As to the pron. οὐδέν , nothing, of the T. R., it ought certainly to be suppressed (with the majority of the Mjj.). It weakens the idea instead of strengthening it. It is not the knowledge of this or that which the apostle denies to the man who is full of self and empty of love; it is the very possibility of knowledge. One can only know by assimilating the being to be known, and one can only assimilate him by renouncing self to give himself to him. Love, therefore, is the condition of all true knowledge, and that above all, when, as here, it is God and His thought and will which are in question; comp. 1 John 4:8: “He who loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love.”

Vv. 3 is the antithesis of 1 Corinthians 8:2: Without love, no knowledge ( 1Co 8:2 ); with love, true knowledge ( 1Co 8:3 ). But why, instead of: “The same knoweth God,” does the apostle say: The same is known of God? Does he mean to deny the first of these two ideas? Assuredly not. But he clears, as it were, this first stage, which is self-understood, to rise at a bound to the higher stage, which supposes and implies it. To be known of God is more than to know Him. This appears from Galatians 4:9: “But now, having known God, or rather being known of Him.” In a residence, every one knows the monarch; but every one is not known by him. This second stage of knowledge supposes personal intimacy, familiarity of a kind; a character which is foreign to the first. We need not therefore seek to give the expression, “to be known of God,” an exceptional meaning, which was done by Erasmus: “he is acknowledged of God as His true disciple;” and by Grotius: “He is approved of Him.” Beza went even the length of giving to the passive ἔγνωσται , is known, the sense of a Hebrew Hophal: “he is rendered knowing, put in possession of the knowledge of God.” The word know is here taken in the same sense as in Psalms 1:6: “The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous,” a passage which Heinrici rightly compares. The eye of God can penetrate into the heart that loves Him and His light, to illuminate it. In this light an intimate communion is formed between him and God; and this communion is the condition of all true knowledge, of man's being known by God as of God's being known by man.

The pronoun οὗτος , this same, does not refer to God, but to man; it signifies: “This same truly,” in opposition to those πάντες , all, to whom the privilege of knowledge was so freely ascribed at Corinth ( 1Co 8:1 ).

After this digression, for which there was only too much reason, the apostle returns to the thought which he had begun to enunciate, 1 Corinthians 8:1.

Vv. 4. The οὖν , therefore, indicates, as it does so frequently, the resuming of the interrupted sentence; but with this difference, that for the fact of knowledge (the γνῶσιν ἔχειν ) Paul substitutes as the object of the we know the contents of the knowledge.

The term βρῶσις , the act of eating, which he here introduces (it did not occur in 1Co 8:1 ), has in it something disdainful; it emphasizes the lower and material character of the act in question.

The contents of the knowledge which Paul ascribes to all Christians, are the monotheistic creed, as it is summed up in the two following propositions. And first the nothingness of idols; οὐδέν might be an adjective: “ no idol.” In that case we must apply the term idol to the false deity itself. None of those deities worshipped by the heathen has any existence in the circle of real beings ( the world). So Meyer, de Wette, etc. But, says Edwards, it is doubtful whether εἴδωλον , the idol, can denote the false God, without the image representing it; the examples quoted do not prove this. He explains thus: There is not in creation any visible image of God; the only real image of God is that which is in heaven: Christ ( Col 1:15 ; 2Co 4:4 ). But one feels at once how foreign this thought is to the context. The subject in question for the time is God; only afterwards will Paul come to Jesus Christ, as the only Lord ( 1Co 8:6 ). What has led some to make οὐδέν an adjective, is the following οὐδείς , which evidently signifies no. But why should the construction of the two propositions be the same? The οὐδέν ought to be taken as a predicate: “That an idol is nothing in the world.” It must be remembered that the statue was judged by the heathen to be the dwelling and agent of the god himself, so that the apostle means: If in the world of beings you seek one corresponding to the statue and person of Jupiter, Apollo, etc., you will find nothing.

In the following proposition, the word ἕτερος , other (which is found in the T. R.), must be rejected.

There was certainly not a single Christian at Corinth who had not subscribed to these two propositions; and the apostle may have borrowed them from the Church's own letter. He himself confirms while explaining them, but at the same time completing and prudently limiting them in the two following verses.

Verses 1-13

I. The Question considered from the Viewpoint of our Neighbour's Salvation. 8:1-9:22.

The apostle proves that if there is a knowledge which all equally possess ( 1Co 8:1-6 ), there remains a difference of degree which imposes duties on one class relatively to others ( 1Co 8:7-13 ); then he shows by his own example how such obligations ought to be discharged ( 1Co 9:1-22 ).

Verses 5-6

Vv. 5, 6. “For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, as there be gods many, and lords many, 6. but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in Him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him.” Καὶ γάρ , and indeed. Paul affirms, in harmony with the Corinthians, that whatever may be the multiplicity of gods worshipped by the heathen, the Christian recognises only one God, Him whose character he here defines, and but one Lord, the Mediator between God and men. “The imagination of the Greeks,” says Beet, “filled with divinities the visible and invisible heavens, and on earth, mountains, forests, and rivers.” These are the λεγόμενοι θεοί , the beings designated by the name of gods and worshipped as such, but who, as the epithet indicates, have only the name of deity. The two propositions which begin, the one with εἴπερ , even though, the other with ὥσπερ , as indeed, have been very variously understood, according as the two verbs εἰσί , are, which stand at the head of both, have been taken to denote a logical or a real existence. In the view of Rückert, Olshausen, Meyer, Kling, Hofmann, real existence is to be understood in both cases in this sense: “Even if ( εἴπερ ) the gods of mythology really exist (a supposition which is not absurd), agreeably to the fact that ( ὥσπερ ) there really exist gods and lords in abundance (the angels in their different orders enumerated by Paul, Ephesians 1:21; Colossians 1:16; comp. Deu 10:17 and Psa 136:2-3 ), even if such gods really exist, yet there is for us, Christians, only one God and one Lord.” But it is not easy to explain clearly the relation between these two real existences, the former of which on this understanding is put as hypothetical, and then the second as certain, and which nevertheless both relate to one and the same subject. Others, like Chrysostom, Calvin, Beza, Neander, de Wette, regard these two existences as imaginary. “Even though ( εἴπερ ) the heathen worship a multitude of fictitious gods, as one may see, indeed ( ὥσπερ ), that according to them, every place is full of gods and lords....” But de Wette himself cannot help seeing the useless tautology of these two propositions of really identical meaning. Commentators of a third view, like Grotius, Billroth, understand the former of the two εἰσί , are, in the sense of a real existence, the latter in that of an imaginary existence: “Even though there really exists a host of beings, such as the sky, the sun, the moon, the earth, the ocean, which are made gods, as it may be seen in fact that among the heathen these are deities.” But with what view would the apostle thus insist on the reality of the creatures which heathenism had deified? If, as is exact, one of the two verbs should denote a real, the other a fictitious existence, is it not much more natural to interpret in the latter sense that one of the two εἰσί ( are), which is accompanied by the participle λεγόμενοι , called? For this apposition undoubtedly does not force us (comp. 2Th 2:4 ) to attribute an imaginary character to these gods, but it permits and leads to it. In this case the following would be the meaning of the verse: “Even though there are in abundance beings called gods, and worshipped as such, with whom the imagination of the heathen peoples both heaven and earth (Jupiter, Apollo, Mars, Ceres, Bacchus, Nymphs), as in fact ( ὥσπερ ) there really exist we must not be deceived on the point gods many and lords many....” By these last words the apostle means, that if the particular mythological deities are only fictions, there is yet behind these fictions a reality of which we must take account. In 1Co 10:20 he expressly declares, that “what the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons;” not, certainly, that he regards the god Jupiter as one demon and the god Apollo as another; but in heathenism in general he recognises the work of malignant spirits, who have turned man away from God, and filled the void thus formed in the soul with this vain and impure phantasmagoria. It is in the same sense that he describes demons, Ephesians 6:12, as “rulers of the present darkness;” that he calls Satan, 2 Corinthians 4:4, the god of this world who blinds the unbelieving; and that Jesus Himself calls him the Prince of this world (John 12:31; Joh 14:30 ). The term, gods many, refers to the heads of this kingdom of darkness; the term, lords many, to the inferior spirits, the subordinate agents; comp. in our Epistle 1 Corinthians 15:24.

If criticism, such as is practised in our day, had the least interest in setting our Epistle in opposition to that of the Romans, how easy would it be for it to maintain by means of this passage, either that they proceed from two different authors, or that the apostle's ideas had become changed in the interval between the one and the other! In point of fact, the explanation which the apostle gives of the origin of heathenism in the Epistle to the Romans (chap. 1) is purely psychological, and leaves wholly out of account all influence exercised by superior beings. But the two explanations hold true together and complete one another. The apostle emphasizes in each Epistle that which is of importance to the subject he is treating; in Romans, where he wishes to bring out the corruption of mankind, he shows the moral origin of idolatry: how this great collective sin proceeded from the heart of man; in our Epistle, where he has in view certain practical rules to be drawn for the conduct of the Corinthians, he emphasizes the diabolical influence which concurred to produce heathenism. Is there not a lesson of prudence and wise reserve to be drawn from this fact for so many other analogous cases? It will be seen afterwards with what view the apostle here presents simultaneously these two aspects of the truth: on the one side, the nothingness of heathen divinities; and, on the other, the diabolical reality which is hidden under this empty phantasmagoria. The first point of view will justify the liberty allowed in regard to the eating of offered meats; the second, the absolute prohibition against taking part in the idol feasts.

Vv. 6. With these fictitious, and yet, in a certain sense, real gods and lords, Paul forcibly contrasts by the adverb ἀλλά , but, and the pronoun ἡμῖν , for us, put first, the only God and the only Lord recognised by the Christian conscience. The title the Father, added to the word God, is taken in the absolute sense in which it embraces His Fatherhood both in relation to Christ and to us. The apostle here adds two notions: the proceeding of all things from God alone ( ἐξ οὗ , of whom), and the moral consecration of believers to Him alone ( εἰς αὐτόν , for Him). In such a context he cannot be intending to describe thereby His greatness and perfection; but he means that nothing of all that forms part of the universe created by such a Being (offered meats in particular) can defile the believer ( 1Co 10:25-26 ). How could that which is made by God prevent him from being and remaining for God what he ought to be? (see Hofmann).

As God, the Father, is contrasted with the principal heathen deities, Christ, the Lord, is so with the secondary deities who served as mediators between the great gods and the world. What Paul means is, that as the world is from God, and the Church for God; so the world is by Christ, and the Church also by Him.

The former of the two propositions relative to Christ: by whom are all things, can only apply, as is recognised by all the critics of our time, de Wette, Heinrici, Reuss, Meyer, and even Pfleiderer and Holtzmann, to the work of creation. Baur thinks that the διά may be referred in the first proposition, as well as in the second, to the work of redemption. But the ἡμεῖς , we, of the second proposition evidently contrasts Christians, as objects of redemption, with τὰ πάντα , all things, as objects of another work, which, as is shown by the previous proposition, can only be creation. Holsten, alone, cannot bring himself to this avowal. In the words, all things by Him, he finds only the idea of the government of all things by the glorified Christ. But the by Him corresponds to the of Him ( ἐξ αὐτοῦ ) of the previous proposition, and can consequently apply only to the same work, that of creation, of which God is the author and Christ the agent. It is the same thought as in Colossians 1:15-17, where the ἐν corresponds to our διά , and as in John 1:3, where the δἰ αὐτοῦ expresses the creation of all things by the Logos. The idea which Holsten finds in this proposition would, besides, be out of all relation to Paul's object, which is to show that a meat divinely created cannot separate man from God. The Vaticanus, instead of δἰ οὗ , reads δἰ ὅν , on account of whom; evidently the mistake of a copyist.

In the second proposition the word ἡμεῖς , we, contrasted with all things, shows that the subject in question is the spiritual creation accomplished by Christ, the work of salvation. These words have their commentary in Colossians 1:18-22, as the preceding in Colossians 1:15-17. They form the counterpart of the second preceding proposition relating to God. In the physical order we are of God and by Christ; in the spiritual order we are by Christ and for God.

We have already pointed out more than once how, notwithstanding the diversity of forms, the views of Paul coincide with those of John. We have just seen this in connection with the regimen δἰ οὗ , which so vividly reminds us of the δἰ αὐτοῦ of John 1:3. This connection is equally striking if we compare from the Christological viewpoint this saying of Paul with John 17:3. In the two passages, the personal distinction between God and Christ is strongly emphasized, though the community of nature between both appears from this very distinction, and from all the rest of the books where these sayings are contained. Reuss maintains that there are in the Gospel of John two opposite theories going side by side; but we must in that case say the same of the writings of the Apostle Paul, whose rigorous logic no one disputes. In point of fact there is no contradiction in either; for both emphasize with the full consciousness of what they affirm the subordination of the Son in the unity of the Divine life; see on 1 Corinthians 3:23.

Here we have one of the passages which establish the complete unity of the apostle's Christology in his first letters, and in those of his imprisonment (Col., Eph., Phil.). “Let there be an end then,” says Gess rightly ( Apost. Zeugn., ii. p. 295), “to the assertion that the Christology of the later Epistles is contrary to that of Paul; according to which Christ, it is held, is nothing more than the ideal or celestial man, and that though one is forced to allow that our passage makes Him the mediator of the creation of the universe!”

Thus far, St. Paul would say, we are all at one, but here now is the point where difference begins, and this difference impresses the Christian who loves, with regard and sacrifices toward those whose judgment differs from his.

Verse 7

Vv. 7. “Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge. Some, through the habit which they have to this hour of [believing in] the idol, eat the meats as offered to the idol, and their conscience being weak is defiled.”

The strong contrast indicated by the ἀλλ᾿ οὐκ , but not, and by the place given at the opening of the sentence to the ἐν πᾶσιν , in all (opposed to ἡμῖν , to us, 1Co 8:6 ), may be paraphrased as follows: “But this monotheistic knowledge possessed by us all has not yet unfolded in the consciousness of all its full consequences.” At the first glance the opening words of this verse seem to contradict the assertion of 1 Corinthians 8:1 (“we know that we all have knowledge”), and it was this supposed contradiction which led several critics to refer the words of 1Co 8:1 only to the enlightened Christians of Corinth (Beza, Flatt, etc.), or to these with the addition of the apostle (Meyer). 1Co 8:7 in this case would refer to the weak Christians only, and would agree without difficulty with 1 Corinthians 8:1. But in thus escaping from one contradiction, we fall into another. How, on this view, can we explain the πάντες , all, of 1 Corinthians 8:1, having regard to the οὐκ ἐν πᾶσιν , not in all, of 1Co 8:7 ? The all of 1Co 8:1 would necessarily require to have been qualified by some restriction. Besides this, as de Wette observes, the apostle has just unfolded in 1Co 8:6 the contents of the knowledge, and he has done so as speaking not in the name of some, but of all Christians ( we, in opposition to the heathen). The apparent contradiction between 1Co 8:1 ; 1Co 8:7 must therefore be resolved differently. Account must be taken of two differences of expression. In 1 Corinthians 8:1: we all have; here: in all there is not; in 1 Corinthians 8:1: [some] knowledge, a certain knowledge ( γνῶσις without article); in 1 Corinthians 8:7, [the] knowledge ( γνῶσις with the article): “All have the monotheistie knowledge in general (a certain knowledge, 1Co 8:1 ); but the precise knowledge which is in question here (to wit, that heathen deities do not exist, and consequently cannot contaminate either the meats offered to them or those who eat them), this knowledge is not in all, has not yet penetrated the conscience of all to the quick, so as to free them from every scruple.” How many truths do we possess, from having learned our catechism, the practical conclusions of which we are yet far from having drawn! How many people ridicule belief in ghosts, whom the fear of spirits terrifies when they find themselves alone in the night! The idolatrous superstitions are numerous which still exercise their influence on our monotheistic Christendom.

The strong among the Corinthians did not make this distinction between theoretic knowledge and its practical application; and hence it was that they thought themselves entitled to set aside all consideration for the weak: “Freedom to eat meats offered to idols follows logically from the monotheistic principle common to all; so much the worse for those of us who want logic! We are not called to put ourselves about for a brother who reasons badly.” This was strong in logic, but weak in ἀγάπη ( love). And hence it was that the apostle had introduced at the beginning of this chapter the short digression on the emptiness of knowledge without love.

There is room for hesitating between the reading of the T. R.: τῇ συνειδήσει , through conscience, after the Byz. and Greco-Lat.'s, the Itala and the Peschito, and that of the Alex. and of a later Syriac translation: τῇ συνηθείᾳ , through habit. Meyer, Heinrici, Holsten have returned, contrary to Tischendorf's authority (8th edition), to the received reading. They allege its difficulty. But is it not very improbable that the word συνήθεια , so rare in the New Testament (it is found only twice), has been substituted for the term συνείδησις , which occurs in this same verse and twice besides in this chapter? (1 Corinthians 8:10; 1Co 8:12 ). As to the sense. συνείδησις , conscience, would denote the inward conviction of the reality of the idol, which in such persons has survived their conversion. The term συνήθεια denotes the habit which they have of regarding the idol as a real being. The words ἕως ἄρτι , till now, especially placed, as they are in most Mjj., before τοῦ εἰδώλου , apply naturally, not to the verb, but to the substantive which precedes, and agree perfectly with the notion of habit: a habit (which lasts) till now even after the new faith should have put an end to it. If this is the true reading, the conclusion is almost necessary that the persons in question were of heathen origin. The old prejudice, under the dominion of which they had lived, resisted logic. They could not imagine that the powers they had so long revered under the names of Zeus, Mars, Minerva, etc., had not some reality. Hence the meats offered on their altar could no longer be simple meats; they must have taken something of the malignant character of those beings themselves. And therefore the Christian who eats them in this character ( ὡς εἰδωλόθυτον , as sacrificed) is ipso facto polluted.

What does the apostle mean by the expression weak conscience? The term συνείδησις , conscience, strictly denotes the knowledge which the Ego has of itself, as willing and doing good or evil (the moral conscience), and of itself in what it thinks and knows (the theoretical conscience). It is the moral conscience which is here in question. It is weak, because a religious scruple, from which the gospel should have set it free, still binds it to beings which have no existence and hinders it from acting normally. Probably those former heathen, while adhering to belief in one God, still regarded their deities of other days, if not as gods, at least as terrible powers. The apostle adds that this conscience will be defiled, if the person eats of those meats in this state. In fact, this act remains upon it as a stain which separates from the holy God the man who has committed it while himself disapproving of it.

Verses 8-9

Vv. 8, 9. “Now meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. 9. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling - block to them that are weak.” The transition between this verse and the foregoing is as follows: By eating such meats thou mayest therefore lead the weak brother to defile himself ( 1Co 8:8 ); but as for thyself thou hast nothing to gain, any more than thou hast to lose, by not eating. The conclusion is obvious.

The verb παριστάναι , to present, is often used of the presenting of offerings to God; comp. Romans 12:1; Romans 6:13, etc.; and if we read the verb in the present with the T. R., it is the most natural sense: “It is not in the power of meats to add anything to or take anything from the value which our consecration to His service has in the sight of God.” If we read the future with the Alex., we must, like Holsten and others, apply the verb to the day of judgment; comp. 2 Corinthians 4:14; Romans 14:10: “Meats will not make us stand before God in that day.” This meaning is much more foreign to the context; for the threat will not come till later ( 1Co 8:11-12 ). The parallels quoted in its favour prove nothing, the verb present being used in a wholly different relation. Here we have a general maxim, with which the present is in keeping. Bengel, Meyer, Hofmann, in order to explain more easily the connection of this proposition with the two following alternatives, give the verb a morally indifferent meaning: “Meats determine our relation to God neither for good nor evil ( neque ad placendum, neque ad displicendum, Bengel).” This sense would be more natural in the philosophical style than in biblical language. The meaning which we have given may be suitable in the two following propositions; the privation of that which has no relation, causes no loss.

The order of the two following propositions in A B (see critical note) is condemned by the other Mjj. and by the ancient versions.

Calvin, Mosheim, and others have seen in this verse an objection of the Corinthians: “Meats not being able to procure either approval or condemnation, we may consequently act at will.” Paul, they say, answers in 1 Corinthians 8:9. But this argument would rather be opposed than favourable to the conduct of the strong. For if those meats neither caused them gain nor loss, but may through them cause their brother to sin ( 1Co 8:7 ), it is evident that they ought to abstain in cases where this last result may be produced. The consequence of 1Co 8:8 therefore is, that no importance whatever is to be attached to those meats in themselves. Hence 1 Corinthians 8:9: But there is importance in not causing one's brother to sin by means of those meats.

Vv. 9. The δέ is adversative: but. The term βλέπετε , consider well, is opposed to the lightness with which the Corinthians used their right.

In the word, ἐξουσία , power, right, here liberty, there is an allusion to the favourite formula of the strong at Corinth: “All things are lawful for me.” The connection must be observed between ἐξουσία and ἔξεστι .

The pronoun αὕτη , this liberty, strongly contrasts this power, which is in itself an advantage, with the evil effects which it may produce when imprudently exercised. And now from these general considerations the apostle comes to their application.

Verses 10-11

Vv. 10, 11. “For if any man see thee, which hast knowledge, sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols? 11. And so through thy knowledge thy weak brother perisheth, for whom Christ died.”

The for indicates that here is the danger Paul had in view when he said: Take heed! in 1 Corinthians 8:9.

This any man is one of the some of 1 Corinthians 8:7.

The reading σέ , thee, must evidently be preferred to that of the Mjj., which omit this pronoun.

The term εἰδωλεῖον , the situation in which the idol is set up, is not common in classic Greek; it is not even mentioned in Passow's large dictionary. It was formed by Jewish writers ( 1Ma 1:47 ; 1Ma 10:83 ) on the model of the words βακχεῖον , ποσειδωνεῖον , temple of Bacchus, Neptune, etc.; the apostle no doubt uses it to avoid the word ναός (Edwards).

It is far from probable that one formerly a Jew would be found within the enclosure of an idolatrous temple, and still less that the sight of a Christian partaking of such a banquet would have inspired him with the desire to eat meats offered to the idol; this spectacle, on the contrary, would have filled him with horror. The weak brother is therefore, as we have said, rather a former heathen.

The term οὐκ οἰκοδομηθήσεται , will be edified, [emboldened], is used with evident irony. It suffices to call to mind that the more advanced believer should by his superior knowledge have edified the other by enlightening his conscience and emancipating him from his false scruples, whereas by his imprudence he leads him to trample upon his conscience, and thus substitutes false edification for the true: he enlightens and strengthens him to his loss! Fine edification! It may appear surprising that Paul here lets the conduct of the strong Christian pass without calling his attention to the evil which he may do himself by taking part in such a banquet in such a place. But the apostle never wanders from his subject. His subject here is the self-denial imposed by love to our neighbour. He will afterwards ( 1Co 10:15-21 ) treat the other side of the question, that concerning the danger to which the strong believer exposes himself.

Vv. 11. If we read for, with the two oldest Mjj., this particle refers to the ironical term will be edified [emboldened]: “edified, for as the fruit of it he perishes!” But it seems to me more natural simply to read, with all the other Mjj. and the Peschito, καί , in the sense of: and so. As to the tense of the verb, the present, perisheth, in the Alex. should be preferred to the future, shall perish, of the T. R. The apostle is thinking of the immediate effect: “He is from that moment in the way of perdition.” An unfaithfulness, however small it may appear, separates the believer from his Lord; by interposing between the branch and the stock, it interrupts the communication of life which ought to take place from the one to the other. From that moment spiritual death commences, and if this state continues and becomes aggravated, as is inevitable in such a case, eternal perdition is the end of it; comp. Romans 14:15. Every word of this verse has a force of its own: cause to perish; what success! A weak brother; what magnanimity! Through knowledge, which ought to have been used for his advancement; what fidelity in the use of grace received! A brother over whom thou shouldest have watched as over the apple of thine eye; what love! A man for love of whom Christ gave Himself to die; what gratitude!

It is this last particular, the sin against Christ, which the apostle more especially emphasizes as the gravest of all, in the following verse.

Verses 12-13

Vv. 12, 13. “But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. 13. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”

Every violence done to a brother's conscience, even though he should not thereby be drawn into a deed of unfaithfulness, is a sin committed against Christ, whose work so painfully accomplished we compromise. Here again there is a marked force in every term: τύπτειν , strictly speaking, to strike; συνείδησις , conscience, the most sacred of things; ἀσθενοῦσα , weak, tottering with weakness, and consequently claiming the greatest regard; εἰς Χριστόν , against Christ, the highest of crimes.

Vv. 13. This thought of 1Co 8:12 tells so vividly on the apostle's heart, that it inspires him with a sort of vow whereby he is ready to devote his whole life. The διόπερ , wherefore, sums up all the grounds previously indicated, in particular that of 1 Corinthians 8:12: against Christ.

Instead of, a [kind of] meat, we ought logically to read, this [kind of] meat, or a [kind of] flesh. But the apostle generalizes the idea; though in the second part of the verse, by the use of the expression: flesh, he returns to the particular case. He employs the first person, because the sacrifice in question is one which a man may impose on himself, but which he has no right to impose on others. He would rather abstain from flesh all his life than by using it cause one of his brethren to fall even once.

Holsten well sums up the idea of the chapter thus: The strong sought the solution of the question from the standpoint of knowledge and its rights; the apostle finds it from the standpoint of love and its obligations.

The last words of this chapter evidently form the transition to the following passage, in which Paul continues to present to the Corinthians his own example, by reminding them of the great and constant voluntary sacrifice with which he accompanies the exercise of his apostleship. As Calvin observes to perfection (and such is the real transition from chap. 8 to chap. 9): “ Quia in futurum pollicendo non omnibus fecisset fidem, quid jam fecerit, allegat. ” To the contingent sacrifice of 1Co 8:13 he adds, as a still more convincing example, the sacrifice which he has already made, and which he renews daily, his renunciation of all recompense from the Churches founded by him.

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Bibliographical Information
Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8". "Godet's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gsc/1-corinthians-8.html.