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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 8

Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentBeet on the NT

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Verse 1



About the idol-sacrifices. We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up: but love edifies.* (* Or, builds up.) If anyone thinks that he knows anything, not yet has he learnt as one must needs learn. But if anyone loves God, this man is known by Him.

About the eating, then, of the idol-sacrifices, we know that there is no idol in the world, and that there is no God except one. For indeed if as all know, there are so-called gods, whether in heaven whether on earth, (just as there are gods many and lords many,) nevertheless to us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we for Him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and we through Him.

But not in all is there knowledge. And some, by their accustomed intercourse until now with the idol, as an idol-sacrifice eat it: and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. But food will not present us to God. Neither if we do eat do we abound, nor if we do not eat do we fall short. But see lest in any way this right** (** Or authority.) of yours become a stumblingblock to the weak ones. For if one see thee, who hast knowledge, sitting in an idol-precinct, will not his conscience, he being weak, be edified*** (*** Or, built up.) to eat the idol-sacrifices? For the weak one perishes through thy knowledge, the brother because of whom Christ died. But, while thus sinning against the brothers and smiting their conscience, it being weak, against Christ you are sinning. For which cause indeed if food ensnares my brother, I will not eat flesh for ever, that I may not ensnare my brother.

1 Corinthians 8:1. The idol-sacrifices: animals offered in sacrifice to idols, of which the greater part was eaten by the offerer and his friends either (1 Corinthians 8:10; 1 Corinthians 10:27) within the precincts of the temple or in private houses, or (1 Corinthians 10:25) was sold in the market. Same word in Acts 15:29; Acts 21:25; Revelation 2:14; Revelation 2:20. Similarly, a great part of the Mosaic peace offerings was eaten by the offerer: Leviticus 7:15-18; Leviticus 7:20; Leviticus 17:2-6. The sudden and matter-of-fact transition to this subject without any reason given (contrast 1 Corinthians 1:11; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 1 Corinthians 6:1) and in a form similar to 1 Corinthians 7:1, suggests that it was mentioned in the letter to Paul. He deals with it by first laying down as usual a great general principle, viz. that love is better than knowledge, 1 Corinthians 8:1-3; and then looks at the matter in the light (1 Corinthians 8:4-6) of knowledge and (1 Corinthians 8:7-13) of love. He supports the warning thus given by referring to (§ 15) his own rights, and (§ 16) to his own example and to (§ 17) the story of ancient Israel; and then gives specific advice about eating idol-sacrifices (§ 18) at an idol-feast, and (§ 19) in private homes.

We all: a general admission, of which the compass cannot be exactly defined. Paul here tells his readers that when speaking of the weak brethren he does not refer to himself or them. He therefore uses the third person: 1 Corinthians 8:7-12; 1 Corinthians 10:28. Contrast Romans 14:3; Romans 14:10.

Have knowledge: cp. i. 5; and the many indications throughout the Epistle that the Corinthians boasted, and probably possessed, considerable Christian intelligence; e.g. 1 Corinthians 1:17 to 1 Corinthians 2:16; 1 Corinthians 3:18 ff; 1 Corinthians 6:5.

Puffs up: as in 1 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Corinthians 4:18; 1 Corinthians 5:2 : the inflated self-esteem which is the natural tendency of knowledge, and its constant result when not counterbalanced by love.

Love: as a general principle, and embracing all with whom we have to do. So 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Romans 12:9.

Edifies: builds up. Cp. 1 Corinthians 3:9, and see Romans 14:19. Love, by its own nature, prompts us to use our powers for the good of others, and especially for their highest good, i.e. the development of their spiritual life. It is therefore better than knowledge.

Verse 2

1 Corinthians 8:2. Further superiority of love.

Thinks that he knows; expounds “puffs up.” This thought is a natural result of knowledge not counterbalanced by love.

Knows anything: thinks that what he knows is something of intrinsic value.

Learnt it: viz. the anything he thinks he knows. All knowledge which does not teach us that even the highest knowledge cannot of itself bless, is defective even as knowledge. Yet we must needs know: for salvation and spiritual life come through the intelligence; John 8:32; John 17:3. But the knowledge we need is so thorough that it reveals its own powerlessness of itself to save.

Verse 3

1 Corinthians 8:3. Love to God (Romans 8:28) is of the same nature as, and is parent of, ( 1 John 5:1,) love to our brethren; and may therefore be contrasted with knowledge.

Known by Him: Galatians 4:9; 2 Timothy 2:19 : present to His mind as an object of observation and thought. Cp. “foreknew,” Romans 8:29. The context implies that God’s knowledge of us will be used for our protection and well-being. We are ignorant of much that concerns us. But, if we love God, His infinite intelligence, which comprehends fully our nature, our weakness, our circumstances, and our needs, is at work for us, watching us with ceaseless vigilance and choosing for us whatever is best. And, that God knows us, is a pledge that His purposes about us will not fail. Thus, love, whether we know much or little, places us under the protection and guidance of the infinite knowledge of God.

1 Corinthians 8:2-3 teach the important principle that Christian love is in itself essentially good, so that whosoever has it is better in proportion as he has it. For love is the inmost essence of God, 1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16; and is therefore the inmost essence and the summit of the Christian life. Cp. 1 Corinthians 13. But knowledge is of secondary value, like wealth and bodily health, and like them will do good or harm according as we use it.

Verses 4-6

1 Corinthians 8:4-6. After asserting and expounding the great principle of 1 Corinthians 8:1-3, Paul now takes up the special matter of DIV. IV.

Idol: not here a mere image, but, by an inevitable transition of thought, the deity worshipped in the image. Paul says that Zeus, Apollo, etc, have no existence. If you search everywhere in the world, you will find no reality corresponding to the images. Consequently, there is no god, no supreme power, except one. This assertion, 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 support in face of prevalent polytheism.

So-called gods: conceptions to which the name god is given. The fancy of the Greeks peopled with deities the heaven, visible and invisible, and the mountains, woods, and rivers of earth. That gods many and lords many refers only to the subjective thought of the heathen, is proved by the express statement of 1 Corinthians 8:4, and by the subjective reference, “to us,” in 1 Corinthians 8:6. Of the objective and superhuman and infernal bases and source of idolatry, (see 1 Corinthians 10:20,) there is no hint here. In the thought and lips and life of the heathen, the gods many and lords many were and are a terrible reality. These words admit, as fact, the supposition of 1 Corinthians 8:5 a; and prepare, by contrast, a way for 1 Corinthians 8:6.

God: a superhuman power.

Lord: one whose bidding men do.

1 Corinthians 8:6. To us: practically the same as “we know,” 1 Corinthians 8:4. There is no deity whose existence concerns us except One God and One Lord.

The Father: constant designation of the One God 1 Corinthians 1:3; 1 Corinthians 15:24; 2 Corinthians 1:2 f; Galatians 1:1; Galatians 1:3 f; Romans 6:4; and especially John 1:14; John 1:18; John 5:17-45; John 10:15-38, etc. Moved by the Spirit of adoption, (Romans 8:15,) our chief thought of God is of the Father who begot us to be His children and who looks upon and cares for us with a Father’s love.

From whom: as the original source.

All things: creatures, with or without reason, as in Colossians 1:16; John 1:3. Cp. 1 Corinthians 1:27 f. Whatever exists has sprung from our Father.

And we for Him: another truth, counterpart of the foregoing. Like all things we sprang from God. But, though “all things are from Him and for Him,” (Romans 11:36,) yet, in a special sense, through the death of Christ and the gospel call, God has claimed us for His own and claims to be Himself the one aim of our every purpose and effort.

Lord: specially set apart in the New Testament for Christ’s relation to us. Cp. 1 Corinthians 12:5. Just so, through expresses His relation to the work of creation and redemption. So Romans 1:5; Colossians 1:16; Colossians 1:20.

All things: as above. Jesus of Nazareth, the Anointed King, the one Master whose commands we obey, is the one Agent through whose activity the universe was created; and through whose incarnation, teaching, death, and resurrection, in a special sense we believers are what we are.

Notice that even as compared with the Son, the Father is the One God; and that everywhere Paul uses the term God as the distinctive title of the Father. Cp. 1 Corinthians 3:23; 1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 Corinthians 15:28; John 20:17. But this does not contradict John 1:1, (John 1:18 probably,) John 20:28, where the Son is expressly called “God;” any more than the special title One Lord denies that the Father is also our Master. But it does imply that the title God is specially appropriate to the Father even as distinguished from the Son, and the title Lord to the Son even as distinguished from the Father. In the thought of His contemporary followers, Jesus was distinguished from the Father as He cannot be in our thought. For, the chief element of their spiritual life was loyalty and obedience and service to One from whose human lips commands had been given. To Him, therefore, the title Lord, by which He was accosted on earth, (Matthew 7:21; Matthew 8:2; Matthew 8:6; Matthew 8:8, etc.,) was specially appropriate. And, to the Father, as being First of the mysterious Three, the Eternal Source, essentially and historically, of the Eternal and in their days Incarnate Son, (John 5:26; John 6:57; Colossians 1:19,) and of the Spirit, (John 5:30; John 16:13,) thus furnishing an eternal pattern of devotion; to Him, even as compared with the Divine Son and Spirit, the supreme title One God is specially appropriate. For this reason, in presence of prevalent polytheism and of jealous Jewish monotheism, Paul never (see note, Romans 9:5) speaks of the Son as God and even John uses (cp. John 17:3) the word God as the distinctive name of the Father. Paul left others to make the correct inference embodied in the august title God the Son. Oversight of this has given rise to unitarian arguments based on the monotheistic language of Paul.

Notice that before Paul advises his readers to abstain in certain cases from meat offered to idols, in order to show that his advice is not prompted by latent suspicion of the reality of their power, he proclaims the great truth, destructive of all idolatry, that there is One God; and the great Christian truth that this one God operates and rules through the One Master, Jesus Christ.

Verse 7

1 Corinthians 8:7. Not in all etc.: a fact which in our conduct we must take into account.

Knowledge: recalls “we know,” 1 Corinthians 8:4. With his usual courtesy Paul does not say, “not in all of you;” as though his readers were without knowledge.

On the interesting and very early variation, accustomed-intercourse with the idol or conscience of the idol, see Appendix B. The former reading is the word rendered custom in 1 Corinthians 11:16. It is literally a living together with some one, and thus by unconscious self-adaptation becoming accustomed to him. In days gone by the idols had been to Paul’s readers a terrible reality ever molding their thoughts and lives. And the impress made by this long continued mental intercourse with idols remained until now, even after they had accepted Christianity. These words, though they would apply to Jewish superstitious dread of idols as infernal, or to the continued obligation of Deuteronomy 7:25 f, refer more naturally to converted heathens who were unable to cast away altogether the deeply inwoven mark made in their minds by the idolatry of earlier days. Instances of this are very common now on the mission field.

Eat it: the meat of idol-sacrifices. Owing to their former contact with idolatry, they look upon the meat, while eating it, as an idol-sacrifice. To those who know that idols do not exist, it is but common meat.

Conscience (see Romans 2:15) being weak: the inward faculty which contemplates the secrets of the man’s own heart not having mental and spiritual strength to grasp the truth that an idol is but an empty name. Consequently, in his heart of hearts he is conscious of defilement, i.e. of that which lessens his respect for himself and which he would hide from others. By speaking of this as something actually going on, Paul makes it more easy for us to realize and contemplate the process of defilement.

Verse 8

1 Corinthians 8:8. A great truth which bears on this matter.

Present to God: set before Him for service or approval; Luke 2:22; Romans 6:13; Romans 6:16; Romans 6:19; Romans 12:1; Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:27; 2 Timothy 2:15.

Food: of any kind, including idol-sacrifices. Such will not lay us more completely on the altar of God, or place us before Him more favorably.

Neither etc.: emphatic exposition of the foregoing. Eating, or absence from, any kind of food, can make the spiritual life richer or poorer. Thus before showing how greatly we may injure a brother by eating an idol-sacrifice Paul proves that to abstain from this or any other kind of food will do us no real harm. On the confusion of various reading here, see Appendix B.

Notice, in the careful repetition of this verse, another express abrogation (cp. 1 Corinthians 7:19) of the Mosaic Covenant, of which the distinction of food was an essential feature. So Colossians 2:21; 1 Timothy 4:3; Matthew 15:11; Acts 10:15.

Verses 9-10

1 Corinthians 8:9-10. Solemn warning lest, from something in itself unimportant, serious injury arise.

Right or authority: see Expositor, 1st series, vol. p. 26.

This right of yours: liberty to eat anything, involved in the great truth of 1 Corinthians 8:8.

Stumbling-block: see Romans 14:13. The man whose “conscience is weak” (1 Corinthians 8:7) is himself weak. Cp. Romans 14:2; Romans 15:1. In 1 Corinthians 8:10 we have reason for the warning of 1 Corinthians 8:9.

Who hast knowledge: and whose known intelligence would increase his influence over a weak brother.

Idol-precinct: same word in 1 Maccabees 1:47; 1 Maccabees 10:83: the sacred enclosure round the temple. Here public banquets were held. Consequently, without entering the precinct, a weak brother might see him sitting at a feast.

Edified: or built up: terrible irony. “If you do this you will develop your brother’s faculty of pronouncing sentence on his own actions, and to such a degree that he will eat that which in his heart he believes to be wrong.” Thus ruinous development will be a result of his weakness, which is unable to make a firm judgment. The extreme case, in the idol-precinct, betrays the tendency of all such conduct. And, possibly, even this extreme case was found among the worldly Christians at Corinth.

This verse warns us not to force upon others our own standard of right and wrong. That which is right to us may be wrong, and there fore very hurtful, to others less instructed.

Verses 11-12

1 Corinthians 8:11-12. Terrible and possible result of this “edification,” given as a dissuasive; and then expounded.

Perishes: see 1 Corinthians 1:18. A natural tendency, Paul represents as actual fact. For tendencies are sure to realize themselves sooner or later in facts. And this gives them their significance.

Through thy knowledge: melancholy result. If the strong man had not known that idols do not exist at all, the weak brother would not have been overcome by his example (an example the stronger because of his well-known knowledge) and led to eat that which he believed to be wrong, and thus made still weaker till he fell from Christ and fell into eternal death. Notice the three-fold darkness of this picture; there perishes, a brother, for whom Christ died. Same argument, Romans 14:15. This argument, 1 Corinthians 8:12 further expounds.

Thus: as expounded in 1 Corinthians 8:10-11.

Sin against: Matthew 18:21.

The brothers; reproduces the argument lying in “brother,” 1 Corinthians 8:11.

Smiting their conscience: By leading them to do what their conscience disapproves, we create in them unintentionally a consciousness of having done wrong; and thus inflict upon them a blow in the inmost and most vital part of their being.

It being weak: and, therefore, liable to receive injury. A reason for caution on the part of the strong.

Against Christ: for by doing so we frustrate the purpose of His death. Cp. Matthew 25:45; Matthew 18:5.

Verse 13

1 Corinthians 8:13. For which cause: because to wound the conscience of the weak is to “sin against Christ.”

Ensnares my brother: as in Romans 14:13.

Food: spoken in contempt, as in 1 Corinthians 8:8; Romans 14:15; Romans 14:20. “If a piece of meat, eaten by me, entraps my brother.”

Not eat meat; does not imply that this was needful to avoid ensnaring a brother, but only shows how far Paul is ready to go rather than do this.

For ever: strong hyperbole, as some say now “While the world lasts.”

That I may not etc.: emphatic repetition of Paul’s definite purpose. By turning suddenly away from his readers to himself, and by giving voice to his own deliberate resolve to make any sacrifice for any length of time rather than cause a brother’s fall, Paul puts to shame by his own example the possible objection that it is unfair to ask us to give up our liberty because of the ignorance of others. The example thus given will be expounded fully in § 15, to which this verse is a stepping-stone.

Of 1 Corinthians 8:9-13 the animating principle, though not expressly mentioned, is love, which in 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 Paul proved to be better than knowledge. The connecting link is found in Romans 14:15. Of this love, the word “brother,” four times in 1 Corinthians 8:11-13, is an expression. After proving that love is better than knowledge, which he admits his readers have, Paul recognizes the worth of knowledge by looking in the light of it at the idol-sacrifices. But he remembers that such knowledge is not enjoyed by all; and that, therefore, to some the idol-food is defiling. On the other hand, no kind of food is in itself necessary for the highest degree of Christian life. He therefore warns his readers not so to use their liberty as to entrap those whom they acknowledge to be brethren; and shows how they may do this. He supports his warning by pointing to the terrible consequence of neglecting it and to Christ who died to save even the weak. In view of all this he expresses his own determination to submit to any sacrifice rather than entrap a brother.

1 Corinthians 8:13 has been appealed to, I believe justly, in support of the practice of abstaining as far as practicable from intoxicating beverages. To so great an extent men do what they see others do that we may be sure that some will drink these beverages because we do so. And we notice that a moderate use of them not unfrequently develops into intemperance with its various and terrible consequences. We shall therefore do well to consider whether any benefit we may derive from the habitual use of stimulants is of value equal to the risk of thereby occasioning, though unintentionally, injury to others. And we cannot forget that this injury may lead to eternal ruin, of our brethren, for whom Christ died. God will give to each one wisdom to decide in his own case what course will combine the greatest good to others and to himself with the least harm.

Bibliographical Information
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8". Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jbc/1-corinthians-8.html. 1877-90.
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