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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
1 Corinthians 8

 

 

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Introduction

Entering Idolatrous Temples and Eating Food Offered to Idols (8:1-11:1).

Paul now deals with a question central to the heart of every converted Gentile. In Corinth as in other Gentile cities idolatry entered into every part of life. It affected every aspect of life. The question then was how were Christians to approach the problem?

The main example dealt with in this chapter is the eating of meat offered in sacrifice to a god, within a temple or sanctuary. Such sacrificial meals took place regularly, often by special invitation from associates, involving sacrifices to the gods, in which of course no Christian could directly partake, followed by the separating of the meat so that some was offered to the god, some was eaten by the people, and some was placed on the sacred table, made available to priests and possibly also to the people. One main question was, should Christians publicly partake of such meat within the Temple precincts, or even at all? One important lesson that stems from the discussion is that of doing or not doing things which, while possibly not wrong in themselves, cause others to stumble spiritually.


Verse 1

'We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.'

It would seem that many Corinthian Christians were claiming that their superior knowledge as Christians meant that to them idols were nothing. Nor therefore was meat offered to them of any significance. Thus they could partake of it whenever, and wherever they liked, whether in Temples or at home, because they had 'knowledge'. They were in the know. They disregarded idols.

Paul accepts that such knowledge is common to Christians, but points out that greater than knowledge is love (1 Corinthians 13:11-13). He too knew that idols were nothing. But having such knowledge alone can make a man puffed up. What is more important is the approach of love, love to others who might not have that full knowledge. Love will make a man what he should be, and make him behave as he should. It is that which edifies him, feeds him and builds him up. We must view all things firstly from the viewpoint of love, of consideration for others and what effect our behaviour might have on them.

This applies to all knowledge of God. It is good to be strong in doctrine, or in 'spiritual knowledge', but not if we are not strong in love, love for God and love for our fellow-Christians. Being strong in love is the first essential and should begin before we become strong in doctrine. It is the distinctive feature that binds us all together. It is the evidence of what we are. 'He who does not love does not know God, for God is love' (1 John 4:8). Love is especially expressed in showing consideration to others (see chapter 13). It is the evidence that we are 'known of God'.


Verse 2-3

'If any man thinks that he knows anything, he knows not yet as he ought to know, but if any man loves God, the same is known by him.'

This applies especially in our relationship to God. We may have a little knowledge in this respect, but it is nothing like what we ought to know. Whatever our knowledge of God it is small compared with the reality. Our views of God are tiny and dim compared with what He really is (1 Corinthians 13:11-12). So if we are puffed up about our knowledge of God we are foolish. Each of us has different grades of knowledge about God, but none of us knows God remotely fully. But if we truly love God then we can be sure that we are known by Him, chosen, accepted and blessed. So true love transcends knowledge and must be the first consideration (1 Corinthians 13:13). This applies to all that we know which if acted on causes problems for others. So knowing about God simply leaves us aware of how little we really know, but loving God, and revealing it in our behaviour towards others, indicates that God knows us, and what could be more wonderful than that?


Verses 4-6

'Concerning therefore the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that no idol is anything in the world, and that there is no God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or on earth, as there are gods many, and lords many, yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we to him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through him.'

Paul can agree with the Corinthians that no idol is really in the world in any meaningful way. They are nothing. And that there is no God but One. Many were called gods, both in the heavens and on earth. There were multitudes of them, both 'gods' and 'lords', the latter especially in the mystery religions. But they were nothing.

For there is only one God, the Father, and He is the source of all things. All is 'of Him'. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, Who also is the source of all things, all is 'through Him'. The very fact of including Jesus Christ in the argument demonstrates that Paul saw Him as truly God.

We note here that other 'gods' and 'lords' are equated. They are all at the same level. They are included in ‘those called gods'. And in contrast is the one God Who is both God and Lord. Thus when he speaks of 'One God' and 'One Lord' he is equating Father and Son in one Godhood. There is one God and one Lord revealed in twoness of relationship, and yet One in being and essence. God the Father is the source of all things, and supplies it through His Son, the Lord, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-3). There is but One God and One Lord, and the Father is both God and Lord, the latter made clear in the Old Testament, and Jesus Christ is both God and Lord. But the main point here is that they are the only God and Lord.

When speaking in the context of gods 'Lord' must signify the Old Testament name for God, Yahweh, the name above every name. That was always translated into Greek as 'Lord' (kurios) as here. And in Philippians 2:5-11 it is specifically applied to Jesus in that context. He has the name above every name. His name is 'Lord'. Thus the One God and Lord is here being contrasted, not with one another, but with the many 'gods and lords' and thus refers to the One God and Lord, Who incorporates the Father and Jesus Christ. They are the inter-communicating, inter-relational 'persona' within God. The Father reveals Himself in His Son.

To introduce the Lord Jesus Christ here as Lord when he is contrasting the One God with the many is to demonstrate His equal status in Godhood.

'And we to him -- and we through Him.' The first phrase stresses man's position as against God, as looking to Him and submissive and obedient to Him. The second stresses the redemptive factor, what we are now is through Him


Verse 7

'Howbeit there is not in all men that knowledge, but some, being used until now to the idol, eat as of a thing sacrificed to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.'

But not all know fully within their hearts that this is so, that gods are nothing, and that there is but One God. Some still have a superstitious awareness of 'the gods' as though they were 'something' (just as many, even some Christians, have a belief in mascots, talismans and 'luck'). So when they eat of a thing sacrificed to an idol it produces in them superstitious ideas, for the idol has previously been their way of life. It had bound all that they did. Thus they feel when eating food sacrificed to such an idol that in some way they are participating in the god, that it is affecting their lives, that they are becoming involved again, and their consciences are smitten because they consider that they are honouring the god, which they know to be wrong. So by being encouraged by more knowledgeable brothers to partake of food offered to idols, and especially within the temple precincts (1 Corinthians 8:10), they feel compromised and defiled. (To say nothing of the witness before the world). And the result may well be a sinking back into idolatry.

The same can apply to us today. We should avoid all contact with the occult, with fortune-telling, with tarot cards, with seances, and so on, and in our multicultural societies with anything that savours of the worship of gods, because although they may seem nothing to us, those to whom they do mean something will misinterpret our involvement.


Verse 8

'But food will not commend us to God: neither, if we eat not, are we the worse; nor, if we eat, are we the better.'

So the strong should remember that the eating of food will never commend us to God, even eating it in defiance of idols. We are no better or worse for it. If we abstain from eating it we are equally commendable as if we eat it. But at the same time by eating it when it has been offered to idols we can be bringing others into great distress. Thus the conclusion should be that we should not eat of it, either within the temple precincts, or when we are informed that it has been offered to idols, lest it harm the weaker brother.

He elsewhere applies this same principle to all foods, whether those seen as unclean by Jews or that seen as defiled by Gentiles (Romans 14:1-4; Romans 14:6; Romans 14:14-15; Romans 14:20-23).


Verses 9-12

'But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to the weak. For if a man sees you who have knowledge sitting at meat in an idol's temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be emboldened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak perishes, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And thus, sinning against the brothers, and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.'

We may ourselves be 'at liberty', be free from all superstition, free from all recognition of idols, but we should not thereby use our knowledge in such a way as to be a stumblingblock to the weak. We should ask ourselves, how will this affect others? In all things love must override everything else. For if we participate of idol meat in the Temple the weaker brother might see us, and knowing our spiritual position, and what he sees as our spiritual superiority, may himself feel that he can participate, his conscience satisfied because we have eaten, but it then result in his harm. For he may then consider himself as again involved in idols and be dragged down and defiled. He not having the strength to remain uninvolved.

So through our 'knowledge' the weaker brother, for whom Christ died, may perish (compare here Romans 14:15 which speaks of ‘destroying him for whom Christ died’). Thus we, by sinning against our brother and weakening his conscience, will actually be sinning against Christ.

'May perish.' The thought here is that this is 'a brother for whom Christ died'. Note that it is not 'a brother who is in Christ'. As with the community of Israel of old where there were included in 'the people of God' those outwardly dedicated to the covenant, whether inwardly so or not, so that the community was composed of both the true people of God and those who were only so outwardly, so in the New Testament too the church from one aspect was seen as including all those who outwardly believed and had been baptised, and included those whose true faith made them in Christ, and those who were bordering on being so, and could be seen outwardly as 'brothers', but could slip back and perish because they were not yet fully 'saved'. They had responded to the Christian message, they were learning and entering into faith, but they had not yet received full faith. They had 'believed in Christ' rather than 'into Christ' (compare John 2:23-25 and often). Christ died for all, but not all finally came.

Others would, however, argue that the sin is against Christ (Acts 9:5; Acts 22:8; Acts 26:15) precisely because the brother is in Christ. They see the idea as rather being that he will slip back and perish physically (compare 1 Corinthians 11:30) or possibly be spiritually shipwrecked and left adrift. He will be ‘destroyed’ (Romans 14:15).


Verse 13

'Wherefore, if meat causes my brother to stumble, I will eat no flesh for evermore, in order that I do not cause my brother to stumble.'

Paul's conclusion is therefore that he himself would do nothing that might make another stumble. If his eating of meat would cause another to stumble he will never eat of it for evermore. He would do anything rather than make another stumble, for whatever reason. Thus should we also have concern for the weaknesses of the weak, pandering to them so that they may eventually become strong.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-corinthians-8.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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