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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 8

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-13

1 Corinthians 8:4 . We know that an idol is nothing. St. Paul transcribes this from Habakkuk 2:18, where the Hebrew text is literally “dumb nothings,” for dumb idols; a phrase used by the Gnostics.

1 Corinthians 8:6 . But to us, One God, the Father, possessing the Son in the beginning of his way. Proverbs 8:22. Joh 1:18 . From whom the Comforter proceeds, “in glory equal, in majesty co√ęternal.” The Father is the fountain of deity. To him no paternity can be added, no filiation to the Son; all is infinite, all is eternal. St. Paul here, like Moses, Deuteronomy 6:4, asserts the unity of God, in opposition to the gods many, and lords many in the mythology of the gentiles. Of most of those gods, here called in 1 Corinthians 8:4, “nonentities,” we should not have been burdened with the names, had it not been for the theogony of old Hesiod.

And one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. The Word of Jehovah, as is the running phrase of the Chaldaic paraphrase, being made flesh, we now stand in the same relation, as sinners to Christ, that we do as creatures to the Father. As the mediatorial kingdom must be delivered up to God, even the Father, so it had a beginning in Christ, who himself had no beginning. Therefore in our adoption and glory we are all built on him, the only-begotten of the Father.

1 Corinthians 8:11 . And through thy knowledge, thy boasted philosophy, that an idol is nothing, shall the weak brother perish for whom Christ died? The charity which warms the heart and saves us, is worth a thousand speculative opinions. The tender and unexampled love of Christ, in dying for poor sinners, should fill our hearts with divine affection towards the brethren. Paul loves his brother more than any fleshly appetite.


St. Paul apparently speaks here ironically of knowledge which puffeth up, and he is thought to allude to the Gnostics, knowing ones, who affected great superiority of knowledge and of liberty. This sect, most licentious in their morals, were often a great snare to the weaker christians in drawing them to their parties and their feasts. The christians and the gnostics alike agreed that an idol was nothing, for God cannot be represented by any figure made by man. Consequently, no meat should be abhorred under a plea that part of it had been presented to an idol. Now, here is the difference between profane and sacred knowledge; the former puffeth up, and affects to despise the ignorant and vulgar crowd; but sacred knowledge takes mistaken man by the hand, makes him wise unto salvation, and leads him into all the simplicity of the gospel. Thus charity edifies the soul in all the knowledge and life of God.

We have here the glorious superiority of the christian over gentile polytheism, or plurality of gods. To us there is but ONE GOD in essence, having a sociality in himself of Father, Son and Spirit; and this unity of the divine nature is most admirably discovered in the glory of our redemption. And whereas the gentiles had titular divinities, and mediators without number, christians have but one Mediator, who in his mysterious and adorable person of God-man is our prophet, priest and king. By the Lord Jesus were all things created; and we exist as a church and people by his sovereignty and right.

The apostle, after reproving the Gnostic for sitting at meat in the idol temple, conveys a caution to believers against feasting with their idolatrous relatives and friends. Circumstanced as the christians were, he allows them to eat whatsoever was sold in the shambles, not asking whether the beasts had been presented to idols or not, reminding them at the same time that there was a most serious moral danger in feasting with carnal friends. The allusion to the gods, interwoven with all pagan festivity, would be dangerous to the christian, because his presence at such a feast would give a sort of countenance to idolatry: and carnal feasts are equally dangerous still. Who can spend four hours at a feast, and come away fit for the worship of God? Did not Samson, mighty Samson, lose his religion at a Philistine feast? If the cedars of Lebanon have thus been broken with festivity and worldly mirth, what shall become of us who are only like the hyssop on the wall.

The caution, often used by St. Paul, Romans 14:15, is worthy of an apostle who loved his God, and the souls of men. The force of the argument lies here. If my opinion, or my liberty be a favourite point with me, my brother, for whom Christ died should be dearer; my brother is made in the image of God, and is to be my companion and fellow worshipper for ever. Shall I then alienate his affections from religion for a piece of meat, and a carnal feast? God forbid, that I should ever deviate so far from the mind of Christ, and the spirit of the gospel.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/1-corinthians-8.html. 1835.
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