Food Sacrificed to Idols, 1-13
1 Cor 8:1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: we know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
‘In 1 Cor 8:1-11:1 Paul confronts the problems that have arisen due to the fact that the more knowledgeable within the church are eating food which has been sacrificed in a pagan temple. These individuals have come to understand that idols do not actually exist. (1 Cor 8:4-6) But their behavior has become a stumbling block for those who do not yet share this understanding, defiling their weaker consciences and destroying their faith. (1 Cor 8:7,9,11-12) Paul considers such disregard for the disposition of others, based on one’s own rights and knowledge, to be a sin not only against them but against Christ himself. Those who truly know God and are known by him will employ their freedom and knowledge for the sake of building up others in their faith, even when this entails denying one’s own legitimate rights as a believer. (1 Cor 8:1-3 13$) This is the “love that builds up,” rather than knowledge alone, which merely “makes one arrogant.” (1 Cor 8:1) To support his point Paul illustrates this principle of love by pointing to his own decision to support himself financially while in Corinth. (1 Cor 9:1-27) Although the Corinthians accepted Paul as an apostle, (1 Cor 9:1-2) others criticized him for not exercising his legitimate apostolic right to financial support (1 Cor 9:3-14) even when this meant much undue hardship and suffering on Paul’s part. (cf. 1 Cor 4:11-13) Paul’s answer is that he has given up his rights as an apostle for the sake of the progress of the gospel and for the reward God has promised for such acts of love. (1 Cor 9:15-18) Paul thus makes himself “a slave to all, that he might win the more” (1 Cor 9:19) even though he is free to do as it is appropriate in Christ. This is the training in love that all must engage in, who, like Paul, are called to persevere in self-control in order to pursue the prize of the gospel. (1 Cor 9:23-27) In chapter ten Paul goes on to warn the Corinthians of what will happen if they too fail to persevere in love, and misuse their knowledge and experience as an excuse for continual immorality and evil. (cf. 1 Cor 10:11-12) Like Israel in the wilderness, they will be destroyed. (1 Cor 10:1-10) Indeed, God has provided a way of escape from overwhelming temptation, so that there is no excuse for not enduring in the love that is produced by genuine faith. (1 Cor 10:13) As an example of this Paul gives theological parameters and practical advice for dealing with the temptation to partake of food offered to idols. This temptation was common among the Corinthians in general, for whom it was a common social practice to eat in the precincts of a pagan temple. But Paul warns of the inherent spiritual dangers, arguing that even if an idol is “nothing,” those who partook of food offered to idols were partaking of the table of demons. (1 Cor 10:14-30) Finally, Paul returns once again to his own apostolic lifestyle of not seeking his own advantage but living to please others for Christ’s sake. (1 Cor 10:31-32) Here too this is an example for the Corinthians themselves, calling them once more to be “imitators” of him, as he is of Christ (1 Cor 11:1; cf. 4:16).’ (DPL)
‘Some at Corinth in the early 50s refused to eat meat from animals, portions of which had been offered to pagan gods. (1 Cor 8:7,10-12) Others felt at liberty, by virtue of the impotence of idols, to party with unconverted friends in temples, (1 Cor 8:10) where all would be served such meat. (1 Cor 8:1,4) Archaeology has uncovered dining rooms in or adjacent to sacred precincts that might be hired by adherents for private entertainment-only mansions could accommodate more than about nine persons at table. The church at Corinth wrote Paul for guidance (1 Cor 8:1; cf. 7:1). His answer was threefold. (1) Love requires us voluntarily to suspend freedom at times, lest an imperfectly educated Christian be drawn to sin against conscience. (1 Cor 8:1-3,9-13 9 10:28-29a,32-33) (2) Yet those with robust consciences have a valid point: idols do not spoil God’s good gifts, which may be enjoyed without scruple, subject to the exception above. (1 Cor 8:4-6,8 10:19,23,25-27, 29b-30) (3) Participation in an idolatrous festival, however, the purpose of which is to honor a pagan deity-by laying its statue on a couch at table, for example-is incompatible with the Christian Eucharist. There is this much reality to idols: they are tools of demons (1 Cor 10:1-22; cf. Rev 9:20).’ (DLNT)
v1-3 – The Corinthians had evidently been boasting of their superior knowledge and insight. But, says the Apostle, you are not the only ones who possess knowledge. And, in any case, knowledge is not the greatest thing; love is. Moreover, all the knowledge we have is partial and incomplete. But let our hearts rest in the fact, not just that we know God, but that God knows us.
‘There were two sources of meat in the ancient world: the regular market (where the prices were higher) and the local temples (where meat from the sacrifices was always available). The strong members of the church realized that idols could not contaminate food, so they saved money by purchasing the cheaper meat available from the temples. Furthermore, if unconverted friends invited them to a feast at which sacrificial meat was served, the strong Christians attended it whether at the temple or in the home. All of this offended the weaker Christians. Many of them had been saved out of pagan idolatry and they could not understand why their fellow believers would want to have anything to do with meat sacrificed to idols. (In Rom. 14-15, the weak Christians had problems over diets and holy days, but it was the same basic issue.) There was a potential division in the church, so the leaders asked Paul for counsel.’ (Wiersbe)
‘Knowledge is good in itself, but because religion is the one and only basis for it, it becomes a futile, fading thing, so far as unbelievers are concerned…What you discover is something which is imagined to be knowledge, rather than knowledge itself, and that even in those who are looked upon as the most learned. But knowledge must no more be blamed for this, than a sword for falling into the hands of a madman. This may be said, because of certain extremists who furiously protest against all the liberal arts and sciences, as if their only function was to encourage men’s pride, and had no valuable contribution to make to our everyday life. But those very people who decry them like this are so vociferous in their pride, that they are living exemplars of the old proverb: “Nothing is so arrogant as ignorance.”’ (Calvin)
‘The end of study is information, and the end of meditation is practice, or a work upon the affections. Study is like a winter sun that shines but does not warm, but meditation is like blowing up the fire, where we do not mind the blaze but the heat. The end of study is to hoard up truth, but of meditation to lay it forth in conference or holy conversation. In study, we are rather like vintners that take in wine to store themselves for sale; in meditation, like those that buy wine for their own use and comfort. A vintner’s cellar may be better stored than a nobleman’s; the student may have more of notion and knowledge, but the practical Christian has more of taste and refreshment.’
1 Cor 8:2 The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.
1 Cor 8:3 But the man who loves God is known by God.
1 Cor 8:4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: we know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one.
‘Many think that he is quoting from the Corinthian’s letter again, and this may well be the case. He is certainly not giving his own full ideas on the matter, for he says that what is sacrificed to idols is actually sacrificed to devils (10:20). There are spiritual beings behind the idols, though not the ones their worshippers thought.’ (Leon Morris)
1 Cor 8:5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”),
Even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth – ‘Paul’s affirmation about the oneness of God is given in the context of an animistic and polytheistic world. Accordingly, he must acknowledge the fact that believers do live in a world populated by so-called gods. One could not walk through the streets of Roman Corinth and deny the reality of the presence of idols. Ancient literary descriptions of Corinth as well as the archeological evidence that has been excavated there all point to an urban setting that was replete with statues, altars, idols, and temples to pagan gods and goddesses. Paul’s phrase “in heaven” or “on earth” refers to the abode of these pagan deities as reflected in the theology of polytheistic religion. In the polytheistic world of Paul’s day, the gods of Greece and Rome populated the heaven as well as the earth.’ (College Press)
(As indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”) – That is, there are many gods and demigods such as have just been referred to (i.e. ‘so-called’ gods). Of course, the parentheses and quotation marks have been supplied by the NIV to help to clarify the meaning.
‘This cannot be an admission of Paul that they were truly gods, and ought to be worshipped; but it is a declaration that they esteemed them to be such, or that a large number of imaginary beings were thus adored. The emphasis should be placed on the word many; and the design of the parenthesis is to show that the number of these that were worshipped was not a few, but was immense; and that they were in fact worshipped as gods, and allowed to have the influence over their minds and lives which they would have if they were real; that is, that the effect of this popular belief was to produce just as much fear, alarm, superstition, and corruption, as though these imaginary gods had a real existence. So that though the more intelligent of the heathen put no confidence in them, yet the effect on the great mass was the same as if they had had a real existence, and exerted over them a real control.’ (Barnes)
‘Another approach to this interpretive problem rests its solution upon some concepts found in Old Testament texts which seem, at least rhetorically, to acknowledge the existence of other gods. While this is an issue far too complex to investigate at this point, it seems that the Old Testament sometimes accommodates the notion of the existence of other deities, but proclaims the supremacy of Yahweh over them. Deut 10:17, for example, reads, “for the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God mighty and awesome who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.” In addition, the first of the ten commandments reads “you shall have no other gods before me,” (Deut 5:7) which may well imply that Moses is acknowledging the existence of other deities, at least in the minds of the surrounding cultures. Another Old Testament text cited for this perspective would be Ps 82:1, which states, “God presides in the great assembly; he gives judgment among the gods.” In light of the fact that Paul has stated his explicit monotheistic beliefs in 8:4, Fee’s assessment of the meaning of 8:5 is helpful when he states, Paul also recognizes the existential reality of pagan worship, and he knows that some within the Corinthian community are going to be affected by that reality. Thus, he interprets the concession with the affirmation “as indeed there are many gods and many lords.” He does not intend by this that the gods exist objectively. Rather, as verse 7 indicates, they exist subjectively in the sense that they are believed in.’ (College Press)
1 Cor 8:6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
For us there is but one God – because, although there may be demonic powers behind the idols, these powers have been overcome by the cross.
There is but one Lord, Jesus Christ – ‘There is a widespread impression that the word Lord is a much weaker title. But this is not so. When we say that Jesus Christ is Lord we are making a statement of unsurpassable significance. In the Latin culture of Imperial Rome the highest title Caesar could claim was Lord. It was a divine title. The same was true in Greek culture: a kurios was a divine being. ‘There are many “gods” and many “lords,”’ as Paul reminds us in 1 Cor 8:5. But what really matters is that in Jewish theology the designation Lord had the very highest import. When the Greeks wanted to translate the Hebrew scriptures they came up against the distinctively Jewish name for God: Jehovah or Yahweh. How should they translate? Their solution was to render it by Kurios (Lord). The English versions have done the same thing. (There are, in fact, two Hebrew words translated Lord: Jehovah and Adonai. The English Bible distinguishes very precisely between them by consistently printing the word for Jehovah in large block capitals: LORD. The distinction is very clear in Ps 8:1).
The importance of all this is that when the Apostles called Jesus Lord they were using a Roman title of divine significance, a Greek title of divine significance and an Aramaic title of divine significance (Mar). Above all, they were ascribing to Jesus the word used by Greek-speaking Jews as equivalent to Jehovah. When we say that Jesus Christ is Lord we are saying exactly that Jesus Christ is Jehovah. This may startle us by its very novelty. But it is the truth, and there is nothing more remarkable in the whole history of human psychology than that monotheistic Jews of the first century, men like Paul and James, should ascribe to a human being the title Kurios and go on to apply to him Old Testament verses which in their original context referred to Jehovah, the God of Israel. Let us never forget this simple fact. When we say, ‘Jesus Christ is Lord,’ we are saying, ‘Jesus Christ is Jehovah.’ When we sing, ‘The Lord is my shepherd,’ we are singing, ‘Jehovah-Jesus is my shepherd.’ (McLeod, A Faith To Live By)
1 Cor 8:7 But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.
‘God does not want us to set our hand to anything, without being quite sure that it is acceptable to him. Therefore, anything a person does with a wavering conscience is, because of that very uncertainty, sinful in God’s sight. That is precisely what Paul says in Rom 14:23…Since the goodness of actions springs from fear of God and integrity of conscience, so, on the other hand, it does not matter how good an action may appear to be, if there is something wrong with the mental attitude behind it, then the action is vitiated. For anyone who boldly sets out on something that is against his conscience, is showing a certain contempt for God.’ (Calvin)
‘It is as though he said: ‘In God’s sight your viewpoint is perfectly correct, and if you were the only people in the world, you would be as free to eat meat offered to idols as any other foods. But be considerate of your brothers, to whom you owe something. You have knowledge; they are ignorant. What you do ought to be influenced not only by your knowledge, but also by their ignorance.’ (Calvin)
1 Cor 8:8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.
Neither being a meat-eater or a vegetarian will give us access to God. ‘Paul here disposes of the pride of knowledge (the enlightened ones) and the pride of prejudice (the unenlightened). Each was disposed to look down upon the other, the one in scorn of the other’s ignorance, the other in horror of the other’s heresy and daring.’ (A.T. Robertson)
1 Cor 8:9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
‘No man is an island’. Those who have understanding must consider in love the welfare of the ignorant.
1 Cor 8:10 For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols?
1 Cor 8:11 So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.
1 Cor 8:12 When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.
1 Cor 8:13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.
‘I wish that careful thought would be given to this by those who make everything turn to their own advantage, so that they cannot bear to give up even the smallest whit of their rights, for the sake of a brother. I also wish that they would attend not only to what Paul teaches, but to what he sets before us by his own example. How far ahead of us Paul is! Therefore, when he shows such willingness to discipline himself to this extent for the sake of his brothers, which of us would not submit to the same conditions?’ (Calvin)