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Monday, May 27th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 10

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-13

A Bad Example from Ancient Israel (10:1-13)

Chapter 10 starts off in such a way as to puzzle the reader. Is Paul changing the subject again? And if not, what have the ancient Israelites got to do with meat offered to idols, and with the motives of a preacher? It is clear that Paul does not think he has left the problem of chapter 8 behind, because he speaks directly to it before the chapter ends. One way to connect this chapter 10 with 8 and 9 is suggested in our outline. After giving his own example of refusing to accept gifts which he had every right to accept—and doing it all for the sake of the gospel—Paul now gives the example of people who were strictly selfish, the very well-known example of the Israelites in the desert. They were so selfish, greedy, and comfort-loving that not even a prophet of God could make heroes out of them, and all God could do was to let them die in the desert. In short, it may be that Paul intends this as a warning to those who thought only of themselves and asked only the question, Will this hurt me?

There are other possible interpretations. An attractive one is this: Paul may be wanting to say a word to the kind of Christian whom he has already addressed as a superior type, freed from the superstitious fears that afflict the consciences of the ignorant. These are Christians who appreciate their freedom in Christ. Paul may be warning them not to presume on their favored po­sition. He may be bringing up the example of the Israelites who, though God’s people, failed to please God. These "superior" Christians found it odd, no doubt, that anyone would be afraid to eat meat that had been offered to idols. Be careful, Paul may be saying to them. You can fall into idolatry yourself. If the Israelites of old, who surely had witnessed the power of the true God, could fall into worshiping a golden calf, you need not think you are too high a type to do anything so silly or sinful.

At all events, Paul comes back from ancient to contemporary days and problems. "Let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall" (10:12), is plain enough for everybody. And then he adds a comforting thought to balance his warning: "God . . . will not let you be tempted beyond your strength" (10:13).

Here is another beautiful example of Paul’s way of starting from some problem you and I will never meet in our lives, some­thing now totally obsolete, and coming out at something universal. Human conceit, human temptation and weakness, God’s protect­ing providence—here are thoughts for Everyman.

Summing Up (10:14-11:1)

With 10:14 Paul takes a new line, though still on the same problem. Some who read chapter 8 might think that Paul took idolatry lightly, so he makes it quite clear that he sees this as a serious sin. Sacrificing to idols is in fact sacrificing to demons. Some Bible students think Paul meant that each separate idol was actually one personal demon or devil, who seduced human beings to worship him. A more likely meaning is twofold: (1) Few if any of the "gods" worshiped in a pagan city at that era would be thought of, even by the worshipers, as the High God, the God of gods; indeed, the Greek word for demon was sometimes used for these imaginary creatures. (2) Whatever demons there be are surely delighted when men worship anything but the true God. To worship at any idol’s shrine is to contribute to the Devil’s delight. So the idols represent demons in general, rather than each idol be­ing really one particular demon.

At any rate, it is clear that Paul teaches, on the one hand, that idolatry is a serious sin, totally inconsistent with being a Christian at all; but on the other hand, that meat in the market is simply meat, just the same wherever it came from. The sensible thing to do is to buy it and not ask where it was killed. If you know it came from a heathen temple, and you know that other Christians know it and are disturbed by it, then remember what has already been said: You are not your own, you have others to consider. Paul sums it all up in one noble sentence: "I try to please all men in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved" (10:33).

1 Corinthians 10:16-22 is a little confusing, but the general meaning should be clear: Christianity and pagan religion are rep­resented here by the Communion on the one side, the pagan sacri­fices on the other. Paul does not mean that the Communion is a sacrifice. He is drawing a contrast, not a parallel, between pagan and Christian faith and worship. You simply cannot be both pagan and Christian.

"Be imitators of me" (11:1) sounds egotistic, and it is true that Paul was no shrinking violet. But what else could Paul recom­mend? He could not say, "Read your Gospels and imitate Christ," because the Gospels had not been written. He, Paul, was the best sample of Christianity the Corinthians knew, and it was a practical way of saying to those very simple Corinthians, Be Christian.


Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Corinthians 10". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/1-corinthians-10.html.
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