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Monday, June 17th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 8

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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I Corinthians 8:1—11:1

We now come to a section of this letter which, perhaps more than most, shows the characteristic Pauline touches. First of all, he starts with a real and practical problem and finally reaches some practical answers. But he finds his answer by way of a high principle which, as he shows us, is bound up with the nature of Christianity itself. Furthermore, as he develops the theme, his train of thought goes off into various sidetracks. He discusses ministers’ salaries, he analyzes his own motives in the ministry, he discusses conscience and the communion table. Here is no formal essayist, but a man with an active mind writing, or more likely dictating, as he talks, and talking as he thinks. Since Paul did not write from an outline, like a professor, we must admit that here as elsewhere our outlines may not exactly fit the exciting movement of Paul’s mind.

The Problem

Readers of Romans will recognize the problem and know al­ready in advance what Paul’s conclusions will be, in general. It was the universal problem that Christians faced in those days, of the meat for sale in the butcher shops everywhere. It was ex­tremely likely that the animal from which the steak or chop had been taken had been killed as a temple sacrifice in some heathen religion. The nub of the problem was this: If I eat such meat, am I participating in the worship of idols? Can a Christian eat such meat and remain a Christian?

Verses 1-6

The First Answer (8:1-6)

Paul’s first answer is soon out. Briefly: an idol has no real ex­istence. It is like a doll. Nothing happens to meat if it has been used "playing house" with dolls; so with idols. "We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do" (8:8). It is not possible to offer meat or anything else to another "god," for there are no other gods.

Here Paul breaks into what is grammatically an aside, yet is one of the key thoughts of the entire Bible: ". . . for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist" (vs. 6).

Verses 7-13

A Second Answer (8:7-13)

The trouble is, not everybody can see the point Paul has made about there being only one God. Corinthian Gentiles would have lived too long with the belief that gods are many, to get over that belief quickly. In the minds of these persons there would be a feeling of guilt. This might be irrational, but the feeling would be there all the same. Children used to have a game of jumping over the cracks in a sidewalk. Something bad was supposed to happen if you stepped on a crack; and if anything bad did hap­pen, as occurs nearly every day, the other children would say, "Aha, we told you ... now you’re to blame for this mess." Some little children have been made to feel very miserable, guilty of something that was not bad at all. But their consciences hurt them just as much as if their "sin" had been real.

Now, Paul says, you know and I know that eating this meat is neither here nor there. God will never ask you where the meat came from. It is no more a matter of conscience than saying "rare" or "well done." The trouble is, some people are upset by your eating, they think you a sinner and lose respect for you; or, on the other hand, they may venture to eat because you did, and then their conscience hurts. No use saying their conscience ought not to hurt, because it does and they can’t help it. Say all you please about their heathen background, they can’t help that either. You are leading some people into going against their consciences, and to go against conscience is always wrong.

Well, someone would say, in this case the conscience itself is wrong. Do you mean to say I must give up my freedom just be­cause somebody’s conscience makes a mountain out of a mole­hill? Is the conscience of these weak-minded, ignorant people any concern of mine?

Indeed it is; Paul emphasizes the point. These weak-minded persons are brothers "for whom Christ died" (8:11). You are enlightened, intelligent; you know the truth, that meat is meat and there is no idolatry in it. You know it is no sin to eat it. But if your freedom is causing someone else to go against his con­science, you are actually destroying that man’s character. Re­member, that man is your brother. So that is the second answer: "Therefore, if food is a cause of my brother’s falling, I will never eat meat, lest I cause my brother to fall" (8:13; see also Romans 14).

Paul thus shifts the whole question to a different level. If you ask the question in the form, What can I do without harm to myself? you can get one answer; in this case, Go and eat. But if you ask it in the form, What does my action do to other persons? then the answer is: Do nothing that breaks down their character. Do not let your freedom be a sin against your brothers. A Chris­tian should never stop at the first level; he should go on to the second. "What am I doing to me?" is a fair question; but above and beyond it is the question, "What am I doing to others?"

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/1-corinthians-8.html.
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