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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

1 Corinthians 8

Introduction

PAUL’S FOURTH RESPONSE: TO THE QUESTION CONCERNING EATING IDOL SACRIFICES, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; 1 Corinthians 10:14 to 1 Corinthians 11:1.

St. Paul is informed by letter that cultured Corinthian Christians, having full knowledge that an idol and an idol temple are a nothing, feel that they may eat meat offered to idols as they would any other meat, and eat it in an idolatrous temple just as they would anywhere else. He, in reply, reprehends this knowledge, that is so unloving as to override the tender conscience of the less knowing and more scrupulous.

Verse 1

1. Assuming the first verse to introduce a passage from the Corinthian letter to the apostle, we would print it somewhat thus: Now concerning idol sacrifices, “we are convinced,” [you say,] “that all have knowledge.” Knowledge, [I reply,] puffeth up; it is love that buildeth up; and if any man imagine he KNOWS any thing, he knows nothing as he ought to know.”

Were the words on both sides spoken, not written, we would suppose Paul to cut short their soft, apologetic words rather abruptly, with a firm expression of countenance, softened by a smile, showing that his was a rebuke of love.

Knowledge Γνωσις . Gnosis knowledge is the word whence the Gnostics drew their title, and designates what claimed to be a deep insight into a profound subject, requiring a penetrative mind. And upon this their pet word, knowledge, the apostle plays with a covert sarcasm through the chapter. 1 Corinthians 8:2-4; 1Co 8:7 ; 1 Corinthians 8:10-11. Its arrogance was a quality largely belonging to the sect which assumed it as their title.

Puffeth up An unloving knowledge, even where it is real knowledge, often results in haughty assumption, and in scorn of humbler minds. Knowing perfectly the nothingness of idols, the proud believer might be reckless of the difficulties and dangers of feebler minds.

Charity An unfortunate rendering of the Greek for LOVE. St. Paul affirms that it is love, mixed with knowledge, which perfects knowledge into true wisdom.

Edifieth Buildeth the possessor into a true Christian edifice. If knowledge be the bricks of the edifice, love must at least be the mortar.

Verse 2

2. Any man Destitute of this love, and with gnosis alone.

Nothing He that knows every thing with his brain, but nothing with his heart, fails of true wisdom. Satan is the model of intellect without love.

Verse 3

3. Love God As no one does who does not love his brother man.

Known of him He who loves God, and so man, is known of God as so loving. And that, be sure, is a knowledge worthy of being the object of.

Verse 4

4. We know We have, indeed, this knowledge.

Nothing in the world A literal rendering would be: There is no idol (that is, idol-god) in the world. The definition idol-god is given to the Greek word Ειδωλον in Robinson’s N.T. Lexicon, and sustained by quoting Sept. of Numbers 25:2; 2 Kings 17:33, and other texts. The import of the gnosis, therefore, is, that there is no statue or image with any divinity or other important significance in it. An idol is a nothing in the world, expresses the true, contemptuous idea of Paul, both as a Jew and a Christian. But the more exact verbal rendering preserves more clearly Paul’s antithesis: There is no idol-god in the world, none other God but one.

Verse 5

5. Called gods The world is full of pantheons and mythologies of gods, so called by their worshippers.

In heaven or in earth Chrysostom says, that in heaven means the sun and stars, worshipped by Persians and others; on earth, the gods and demigods in human form, as in the Greek mythology. Yet the phrase refers, perhaps, to the name of God as above, and to Christ as manifest on earth.

There be In men’s estimation and worship.

Verse 6

6. To us Emphatically to us Christians. St. Paul now takes occasion to lay down the positive Christian creed on the subject, cleansing our moral sky of all mythologies, and giving us alone God in heaven and our Lord Christ on earth.

God, the Father Father here used not of his divine paternity of us, but in relation to the Son.

Of whom As himself the unrevealed background of Deity.

One Lord… Christ The divine Manifestation on earth of the hidden Infinite in heaven. Lord as being the executive of the divine power and grace immediately upon us, on earth. Idolatry was the unregenerate effort of fallen man to frame an earthly representative of God. Christ is the true living representative, humanizing the divine, and bringing the Infinite into finite sympathy with us. The idol-lord is therefore a false, fabricated, rival to the true Lord. It must be abolished in order that He may stand supreme and alone. God, therefore, is not here so styled God as to exclude Christ from the Godhead, any more than Christ is styled Lord to exclude God from the Lordship. One is distinctly God and the other Lord, yet both are both God and Lord. And St. Paul thus states the true Christian gnosis as abolishing the idol as a nothing in the world.

Verse 7

7. Howbeit Nevertheless. Whatever you Corinthians may say in your letter, (1 Corinthians 8:1,) it is certain that not in every man is that gnosis. He denies the full accuracy of their statement.

Some Who were doubtless Gentile converts, who could not expel their old habits of thought so but that the impression of the reality of the idol-god would impress their minds.

This was, doubtless, a large class of persons. It was impossible for the more sound-minded Christians to eradicate their lifelong tendencies; and to trample upon them with cool philosophic indifference might be a desolating course.

Conscience of the idol One reading with a habituation of the idol: that is, with their habitual view of the idol, contracted from paganism.

Conscience With a consciousness, intellectual and moral, that recognises it as an idol-god, and not a mere nothing.

Being weak Still under the power of old pagan associations of thought.

Defiled Induced by Christian example to eat, and yet trembling with fear for the imaginary guilt of their own act, they really transgress their own conscience, and are thus condemned; and, perhaps, learn to brave conscience and thus become wicked. Note on Romans 14:23.

Verses 7-13

7-13. The two preliminaries, the knowledge and the monotheism, now being settled, St. Paul takes up the vital topic of sacrificial eating. He denies that all possess the true gnosis, affirming that there is, on the contrary, a class of tremulous Christians with whose weakness it is a bounden Christian duty to sympathize.

Verse 8

8. But This verse, as being repeated by Paul from the Corinthians’ letter, might also be included in quotation marks. It is in continuation of their apology for free eating of idol sacrifices. Their first position was, (1 Corinthians 8:1,) we all have a gnosis that an idol-god is a nothing; this, their second, is, that meat being a physical substance is not impregnated with any moral quality, and so can make a man neither better nor worse. Paul grants this last position, and yet shows that it does not secure the safety of the practice.

Verse 9

9. But Nevertheless; there is still a drawback.

Take heed Paul’s reply to the Corinthian statement of the last verse.

Liberty Εξουσια , right, prerogative. Paul grants the existence of the intrinsic right to eat.

Verse 10

10. If any man Scarce firmly converted from idolatry.

Knowledge The boasted Γνωσισ of 1 Corinthians 8:1.

Sitting Greek, reclining, as was the ancient custom at meals. See note on Matthew xxiii, 6.

Idol’s temple Greek Ειδωλειον , an idoleum. The word, Stanley says, “is only used by Jewish writers, apparently to avoid designating heathen temples by the sacred word ναος , naos, used to express the temple of Jerusalem. 1Ma 1:47 ; 1Ma 10:83 . It is a kind of parody on the names of temples, as derived from the divinities to which they are dedicated.” Similar words are museum, lyceum.

Emboldened Built up. The beauty of the apostle’s word is lost; it being the same Greek word as for edified, in 1 Corinthians 8:1. The weakling is built up, but in a bad direction, to a proud wrong-doing.

Verse 11

11. And The Greek is for. This particle in Greek often refers to some omitted phrase, easily understood by the context. The true rendering, with the omitted phrase supplied, with the verb perish brought into its true present tense, and the spurious interrogation point removed, is this: [ Alas that it should be so, ] for the weak brother perishes by thy knowledge. See note on Romans 14:15.

Christ died A pathetic and forcible argument, drawn from the depths of Christian truth and Christian feeling, and possible for a Christian solely to adduce. Will you not suffer a privation in behalf of the soul for which Christ died?

Verse 12

12. Sin against Christ By destroying the fruit of his death. This was a new argument in the world, drawn from a new source, and in behalf of a new virtue, namely, tenderness for the souls of men.

Verse 13

13. Offend Note on Matthew 18:7.

I will eat no flesh Mark how delicately the apostle passes now from the second person plural, ye, to the first person singular, I. He enjoins upon them a somewhat burdensome take heed; but when it comes to the intensity of perfect self-denial he takes it upon himself. It is a sublime, nay, a daring height of self-consecration, rising to the level of an a p ostle, and that apostle, Paul. And, as in other high things, there is some danger in it. Note Romans 14:16; Romans 14:21. We may by obeying another man’s false conscience confirm his self-conceit, encourage his tyranny, or establish a false morality, and make it a part of the present Christianity. Against this last danger Paul specially here provides. While he complies with the weak brother’s error he openly proclaims that it is an error, and that he complies, not for truth, but from tenderness. He yields to the unsound conscience; but nothing would induce him to admit that the conscience was sound. While temporizing with the weakness, he takes all care for the abolishment of the error.

At this point St. Paul suspends, not terminates, his discussion of the idol sacrifices, and resumes it at 1 Corinthians 10:14 to 1 Corinthians 11:1. He suspends it in order, through an extended and interesting digression, (1 Corinthians 9:1 to 1 Corinthians 10:18,) at once to illustrate this principle of resigning one’s rights for others’ good, and to defend himself from the charge of depreciating his own apostleship in making such surrender. Though a digression, and a long one, it is so full of the noblest sentiments and loftiest piety that none should wish it shorter.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/1-corinthians-8.html. 1874-1909.