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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for 1 Corinthians 8

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Living by Knowledge or by Love

A. A question about meat sacrificed to idols: beginning principles.

1. (1Cr 8:1-3) The principles of love and knowledge.

Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.

a. Now concerning things offered to idols: Having dealt with their questions about marriage and singleness, Paul now addresses (in 1 Corinthians chapters 8-10) the next of their questions regarding eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols.

b. The meat offered on pagan altars was usually divided into three portions. One portion was burnt in honor of the god, one portion was given to the worshipper to take home and eat, and the third portion was given to the priest. If the priest didn’t want to eat his portion, he sold it at the temple restaurant or meat market.

i. The meat served and sold at the temple was generally cheaper. Then, as well as now, people loved a bargain (including Christians).

c. The issue raised many questions for the Corinthian Christians: Can we eat meat purchased at the temple meat market? What if we are served meat purchased at the temple meat market when we are guests in someone’s home? Can a Christian eat at the restaurant at the pagan temple?

d. We know that we all have knowledge: Instead of talking about food, Paul first talks about the principles of knowledge and love. Christian behavior is founded on love, not knowledge; and the goal of the Christian life is not knowledge, but love.

e. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies: Both knowledge and love have an effect on our lives in that each of them make something grow. The difference between puffs up and edifies is striking; it is the difference between a bubble and a building. Some Christians grow, others just swell!

f. If anyone thinks that he knows anything: If we think we know it all, we really don’t know anything – he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. Yet, there is a knowledge that is important: the knowledge God has of those who love Him (if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him).

2. (1Cr 8:4-6) Understanding the reality of the idols meat is offered to.

Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.

a. We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one: Because there is only One True God, idols are not competing gods. Idols are therefore nothing in the world, and are only so-called gods.

i. If meat is offered to Zeus, there is no real Zeus. There is no other God but one. “He” is only one of the so-called gods. “There are many images that are supposed to be representations of divinities: but these divinities are nothing, the figments of mere fancy; and these images have no corresponding realities.” (Clarke)

ii. What about Biblical passages which some take to suggest there are other gods? For example, in John 10:34, Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6-7, in saying You are gods. But the judges of Psalm 82 were called “gods” because in their office they determined the fate of other men. Also, in Exodus 21:6 and 22:8-9, God calls earthly judges “gods.” In John 10, Jesus is saying “if God gives these unjust judges the title ‘gods’ because of their office, why do you consider it blasphemy that I call Myself the ‘Son of God’ in light of the testimony regarding Me and My works?” Jesus is not taking the you are gods of Psalm 82 and applying it to all humanity or to all believers. The use of gods in Psalm 82 was a metaphor.

iii. As well, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul calls Satan the god of this age. Certainly, he does not mean Satan is a true god, a rival god to the Lord God. Satan can be called the god of this age because he is regarded as a god by so many people.

iv. As there are many gods and many lords refers to the so-called gods. Indeed, in the ancient world, there were many, many different gods – and even gods known as the unknown god to cover any gods one might have missed (Acts 17:23).

b. There is one God, the Father... and one Lord Jesus Christ: Paul isn’t distinguishing Jesus from God, as if Jesus were not God. When Paul calls Jesus Lord, he uses the Greek word kurios, and this word would have meant something to Bible reading people in Paul’s day.

i. Leon Morris on Lord: “This term could be no more than a polite form of address like our ‘Sir.’ But it could also be used of the deity one worships. The really significant background, though, is its use in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to render the divine name, Yahweh... Christians who used this as their Bible would be familiar with the term as equivalent to deity.”

ii. Certainly, no one can say through whom are all things, and through whom we live of anyone other than God.

c. The Corinthian Christians may have reasoned like this: if idols are really nothing, it must mean nothing to eat meat sacrificed to nothing idols, and it must mean nothing to eat in the buildings used to worship these nothing idols. In the following section, Paul will show them a better way.

B. Acting on the principle of love.

1. (1Cr 8:7) Not all have the same knowledge.

However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.

a. There is not in everyone that knowledge: The Corinthian Christians who felt free to eat at the pagan temple may have based their freedom on correct knowledge (knowing that idols are nothing). But for some, they have consciousness of the idol, and they eat meat sacrificed to the idol as a thing offered to an idol.

i. Paul asks the Corinthian Christians who know there is nothing to an idol to remember that not everyone knows this. And if someone believes there is something to an idol, and they eat meat that has been sacrificed to an idol, their conscience, being weak, is defiled.

ii. Why is their conscience considered weak? Not because their conscience doesn’t work. Indeed, it does work – in fact, ii it overworks. Their conscience is considered weak because it is wrongly informed; their conscience is operating on the idea that there really is something to an idol.

b. You can imagine the “free” Corinthian Christians with their superior knowledge saying, “but we’re right!” And in this case, being right is important but it is not more important than showing love to the family of God.

2. (1Cr 8:8) What we eat or do not eat does not make us more spiritual.

But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.

a. Food does not commend us to God: You aren’t more spiritual if you know idols are nothing and feel a personal freedom to eat meat sacrificed to idols (neither if we eat are we the better).

i. In Acts 15:29, the Jerusalem Council sent a letter commanding some churches to (among other things) abstain from things offered to idols. But Paul’s discussion of the issue here does not contradict what the Jerusalem Council decided in Acts 15. Instead, it shows that the Council’s decision was not intended to regulate all the church all the time; it was a temporary arrangement, meant to advance the cause of the gospel among the Jews of that day.

b. On the other hand, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. No one is less spiritual for abstaining from meat sacrificed to idols.

c. This is the very point where most stumble in issues relevant to Christian liberty (such as movies, drinking, music, or television). They assume that one stance or another is evidence of greater or lesser spirituality.

3. (1Cr 8:9-13) What does matter: love towards those in God’s family.

But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

a. Beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block: A Corinthian Christian with “superior knowledge” might feel the personal liberty to eat meat sacrificed to idols, but is he exercising this liberty in a way that becomes a stumbling block?

i. Paul says, “You Corinthian Christians who say you have knowledge are claiming your rights; what about the rights of the weak brother?” Because of your knowledge, shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?

ii. “God hath not given people knowledge that they thereby should be a means to harm and to destroy, but to do good, and to save others; it is a most absurd thing for any to use their knowledge, therefore, to the destruction of others.” (Poole)

b. Why is the brother who will not eat the meat sacrificed to an idol considered weak? Many Christians would consider that one to be the “stronger” Christian. However Paul is not speaking about being weak or strong in regard to self-control, but in regard to knowledge.

c. To influence the weak brother to go against his conscience (and thereby wound their weak conscience) is actually to sin against Christ. The Corinthian Christians who abused their liberty might have thought it was a small matter to offend their weak brothers, but they did not understand they offended Jesus Christ.

i. In doing so, they were actually “building up” their brother to sin! Emboldened comes from the words build up. Their misuse of liberty was building others up towards sin.

d. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat: Paul makes the principle clear. Our actions can never be based only on what we know to be right for ourselves. We also need to consider what is right towards our brothers and sisters in Jesus.

i. It is easy for a Christian to say, “I answer to God and God alone” and to ignore his brother or sister. It is true we will answer to God and God alone, but we will answer to God for how we have treated our brother or sister.

e. At the same time, the issue is making a brother stumble – and stumble over an issue that has direct relevance to the brother in question. Paul would never allow this principle to be a way for a legalist to make demands and bind a Christian walking in liberty.

i. In Galatians 2, Paul describes a situation where Peter made Gentiles think they had to come under Jewish customs and laws to be saved. Peter did this through his association and approval of some legalists. Paul rebuked Peter strongly because of this. Even if the legalists from a Jewish background had said to the Gentiles, “Your lack of obedience to our customs stumbles us. We are stumbled brothers. You must do what we want,” Paul would have replied, “You are not stumbled, because you aren’t being tempted to sin through their actions. Your legalism is being offended. Out of love, I will never act in a way that might tempt you to sin, but I don’t care at all about offending your legalism. In fact, I’m happy to do it!”

ii. “Many persons cover a spirit of envy and uncharitableness with the name of godly zeal and tender concern for the salvation of others; they find fault with all; their spirit is a spirit of universal censoriousness; none can please them; and every one suffers by them. These destroy more souls by tithing mint and cumin, than others do by neglecting the weightier matters of the law. Such persons have what is termed, and very properly too, sour godliness.” (Clarke)

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

Study Guide for Romans 1 ← Prior Book
Study Guide for 2 Corinthians 1 Next Book →
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