1 Corinthians 8:1-13


The worship of idols in temples in Corinth lay at the center of the lives of the people. And the food which they ate was intimately associated with this idol worship. Meat from animals without blemish was used in sacrifices to the idols. The worshippers could take some of the unused meat home for consumption there. Some of it was sold in the market. People who bought meat in the market could never be quite certain whether it had or had not been dedicated to idols. Furthermore, eating meat at the temples was very much a part of daily social life. It was somewhat lilke "eating out" in the USA.

Paul had evidently discussed this entire matter with the Corinthian Christians. He had told them that the heathen gods and idols were only figments of the imagination. They do not even exist. Therefore, foods which had been dedicated to these idols and gods were not actually contaminated.

After Paul left, several questions arose among the Corinthians. Evidently there were two erroneous opinions:

  1. Some felt that they had unbridled liberty with reference to eating meats;
  2. Others felt that they had no liberty at all for such eating.

Paul is about to condemn both opinions. This chapter is exceedingly important in all generations. The problem of eating meats dedicated to idols is far removed from us. But we have problems very much like these which must be dealt with as Paul dealt with them.

1 Corinthians 8:1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.

This is evidently the second problem at Corinth concerning which they had written to Paul. Look at 7:1.  "Now about" introduces what Paul had taught them. The words "all of us have knowledge" are put in quotation marks by RSV, TEV, and JB because the translators think that Paul is quoting from their letter.

Grosheide: Knowledge in Paul's vocabulary is not something purely intellectual, it is a knowledge which has results and leads to action, especially religious action. . . . The Corinthians were convinced that they understood the problem except for a few minor details.

But they were trying to determine everything by means of their intellect only. But Paul adds: "Knowledge puffs us." This is an axiom. Always mere intellectual knowledge leads to proud domination. When people compare themselves with others without loving them pride results. Look at 1 Corinthians 13:2. Paul adds: "But love builds up."  Here look at 1 Corinthians 13:8. Love for the neighbor must always be the starting point.

Morris: Pride so often accompanies knowledge, but it is the very antithesis of the genuine Christian spirit.
Kretzmann: Many of the Corinthian Christians pretended to be so firmly grounded in head knowledge that they rose superior to all prejudices . . . Such an attitude is vain and sinful if it is not attended by the proper fruit of love in good works.

Knowledge is necessary and good in itself but more than knowledge is needed.

1 Corinthians 8:2 The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.

Paul is here using "know" in the Scriptural sense. Compare Matthew 7:23 and John 10:14. It is a knowledge with affection and which is entirely for the other person. It has nothing to do with selfish "liking." It denotes a lasting love, the true love of God which comes to us in the Gospel. Paul is here speaking about the person who is deceiving himself. "He has not yet come to know just as he ought to know." 

Morris: Knowledge is proud that it has learnt so much. Wisdom is humble that it knows no more.

A similar thought is found at Galatians 6:3. Paul is speaking about the proud self-deceiver whose knowledge lacks the most important ingredient.

1 Corinthians 8:3 But the man who loves God is known by God.

We would have expected Paul to say: "But if anyone loves God, this one has knowledge." But love does not start with a person. It begins and is constantly coming from God. "This one is known by Him." 

Franzmann: Real 'knowledge' is not an attainment of man but God's gift to man, not so much a knowing as a being known, that is, being loved, chosen, and called by God.

Look at 2 Timothy 2:19; Galatians 4:9; Romans 8:28-29.

Grosheide: The real difference is ultimately one of one's relationship to God . . . It is Paul's purpose to inform the Corinthians of the great significance of God's love which surpasses all earthly knowledge.
Kretzmann: If the faith of a Christian has found its proper expression in love toward his neighbor, 1 John 5:2, then he also knows that his knowledge of love is the result of God's having known him. If God knows any one in this way, it is an effective knowledge, Galatians 4:9; Romans 8:29; it brings him into the most intimate relation of mind and spirit.

1 Corinthians 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.

In verses 4-6 Paul speaks of knowledge of idols and knowledge of God. "So then," takes us back to verse 1. Note the similarity of words. Paul again says "about." Many are of the opinion that also in this verse Paul is quoting from the Corinthians' letter. RSV indicates that idea: "We know that 'an idol has no real existense,' and that 'there is no God but one.'" 

There is only on true God. All pagan gods and idols are non-existent. "World" is used in the sense of the ungodly world. The latter part of this verse reminds us of Deuteronomy 6:4.

Morris: Paul is prepared to agree with his correspondents that the gods the heathen worship are no gods.
Kretzmann: All the strange gods which were described in the hymns of the day were not realities, but were nothing.
Grosheide: There is no reason to abstain from sacrifical meat for there is but one God, our God whom we adore.

1 Corinthians 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"), 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 even if" is used to elucidate verse 4. Some are of the opinion that Paul is again quoting snatches from the Corinthians' letter. "For even if" is "although" and is concessive. Note the repetition of "many" in the second part of verse 5. Paul is probably not making a distinction between "gods" and "worlds." He is simply using the high-sounding vocabulary of the heathen but it amounts to absolutely nothing. JB makes verse 5 a contrary-to-fact condition to bring out the point that these so-called gods and lords are non-existent. The heathen had images on earth for ther imagined gods which filled heaven and earth but it all amounted to nothing.

Thus far the vain imaginings of the pagans. Verse 6 begins with  "yet" a strong adversative conjunction. "For us" means "for us Christians." 

Note that the 26th edition of Nestle Greek text prints verse 6 as a liturgical formula. Perhaps is was a formula used in their divine services. This theory is not harmful so long as it is not used in the interest of form criticism or its equivalent. Note how lines 1-2 correspond to lines 3-4. Lines 1 and 3 speak about the Father and the Son. Lines 2 and 4 speak about their activities and what they mean for Christians.

Note the prominence of "one God." There is only one. In apposition to this is "the Father." No other religion than the one true one calls God "Father," as Christians know Him, the Father of Jesus and the Father of all believers.

The universe is "from Him." And we Christians are to Him, wholly devoted to Him, not to any idol or false god.

Now the second line. Just as God is "one" so our Lord, Jesus Christ, is "one." No polytheism here. All things are "through" Him. He is the Creator. Look at Colossians 1:16; Revelation 4:11; Hebrews 1:3. In addition, He is our Savior and our Mediator. Ephesians 2:18; Romans 8:29.

Lenski: One God and One Lord excludes all pagan notions about gods as such for the Christian consciousness.

For the final phrase Morris notes 2 Corinthians 5:17. In four beautiful symmetrical lines Paul briefly describes the person and work of the One Father and the One Lord which work is devoted to mankind and therefore believers live entirely to this One God. It is no wonder that modern scholars consider these lines to be of a liturgical nature. But at the same time we believe that they were composed by Paul himself.

1 Corinthians 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.

"But" is a strong "however." Paul is about to set them straight as to what is causing the trouble. "Not in all" means that some had not the knowledge necessary. The article "this" points us back to the knowledge of verse 1. The cause is brought out in the remainder of this verse. A minority need their help. AAT translates: "But not everybody knows this. Some are still so used to an idol they think of the meat they eat as sacrificed to the idol."  Though they know that the idol is nothing, they still cling to the notion that the meat is sacrificed to something that is real. They were confused. And so, because their conscience is weak, it is defiled. They were not convinced that eating this meat was a matter of indifference.

Kretzmann: Some of them could not get rid of the notion that there was something real about the idol . . . The idea that the idol was, after all, a real being gave them a bad conscience, and for that reason their eating, though in itself not wrong, became sinful.
Grosheide: When he eats such meat it still is sacrificial meat to him and puts him in touch with the idols.
Lenski: Their Christian knowledge regarding idols does not rid them of the consciousness that what they thus eat is sacrificial idol-meat . . . A weak conscience is one that is not fully clear as to whether an act is right or wrong.

1 Corinthians 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.

 "But" introduces Paul's exposition of the matter. "Food" covers all foods. Grosheide thinks that again Paul is quoting from the Corinthians' letter. None of our version indicate that. Likely Paul is not quoting their letter. "No worse -- no better" are correlative adverbs of negation. Each is followed by a present general condition which holds true at all times. It is the axiomatic condition. If we don't  eat we are not worse off. If we do eat we are not better off. Apparently, Paul is criticizing both groups. The minority felt that eating meat sacrificed to idols was sinful. The majority felt that eating such meat showed their strength of faith. Both were wrong.

Kretzmann: The food that we eat cannot influence our spiritual life . . . These external matters do not affect our standing with God.
Grosheide: If food does not bring us nearer to God, it is of no importance for our relation to God whether we eat or not.
Lenski: Paul's exposition . . . has a double purpose in mind: first, to assist those having a weak conscience who eat idol-meat only with compunction; secondly, to correct those having a strong conscience who eat without compunction and who are proud of doing so. Food has no power to determin our relation to God one way or another.

The Apology states concerning this verse:

It is false that monastic observances are the works of the counsels of the Gospel. For the Gospel does not counsel distinctions among clothes or foods, not the surrender of property. These are human traditions, about all of which it has been said in 1 Corinthians 8:8 'Food does not commend us to God.'

1 Corinthians 8:9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.

How often does not Scripture say "Beware!" This is a stern warning. "This right of yours might become a cause of sin for the weak." How terrible! AAT translates: "But be careful, or weak Christians may fall into sin because you do as you please." 

Paul does not say that it will be so in every case. He guards himself with "perhaps." But the danger is there.

Lenski: Not our 'knowledge' but our 'love' for the weak must govern our action.
Kretzmann: Paul rebukes the attitude of the stronger Christians with a very serious reference to the consequences of their uncharitable behavior. This right ceased to be a matter of Christian liberty when indulging in it proved an obstacle to their weak brother.
Grosheide: This right cannot be the rule for a person's conduct. The eating of sacrificial meat in itself is no sin, but it may lead to sin if the weaker brethren eat it in a certain way. Love for the brethren requires that we reckon with the difficulties of the weak, look at verses 11-13; Romans 14:13; Galatians 5:13. . . . Paul's arguments are valid for every kind of eating and the eating of sacrificial meat is only a specific case.
Morris: The Corinthians claimed the 'right' to do as they pleased in the matter of idols. Paul reminds them that no Christian is at liberty to assert his 'rights' if that means doing harm to other people, a principle of wide application. 'Stumbling block' is a stone in the pathway, an obstacle, something that trips one up and makes progress difficult. The actions of the strong must not be such as to afford a hindrance to the progress of the weak. What is right for one man may well be wrong for another. No one should try to force his standards of right and wrong on to others, whose conscience reacts differently.

1 Corinthians 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?

Now we have an example. "You who have this knowledge" denotes one who has knowledge, who has Christian liberty, but who does not begin with love for the neighbor. Here Paul is using the form of "in a temple" very ironically. Evidently people often received invitations to have dinner in temples. Paul imagines a case in which the person with knowledge purposely eats there to assert his liberty and right. But when the weak person sees what this strong person is doing, he too goes there to eat but the result is horrible. He conscience is emboldened, in spite of itself and thus he sins.

Morris: Evidently the strong among the Corinthians had spoken of the necessity of 'building up' the weak by encouraging them to do such actions.
Kretzmann: The stronger brethren freely accepted invitations to banquets in the temples of heathen gods. They probably had the idea that this was the most effective way of persuading the weak of their foolish position. But what was a questionable edification and could result in only one thing, namely in harm to the weak . . . The latter would also accept such invitations, with the result that their consciences would be defiled. The behavior of the strong was thus the very opposite of charitableness, it was selfish presumption.

Knowledge is good and necessary. But if it is without true love we have demolition rather than edification.

1 Corinthians 8:11 So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.

Verse 10 is a rhetorical question. Paul does not answer it.

Lenski: Better than a formal answer is the terrific blow which Paul drives home.

The sense of "is destroyed" is that he is perishing right now already. And it is because of "your superior knowledge." Though weak he is still called "brother." Christ loved the weak and died for him. The  "superior" brother destroys him.

Robertson-Plummer: The last clause could hardly be more forcible in its appeal; every word tells; 'the brother' not a mere stranger; 'for the sake of whom,' precisely to rescue him from destruction; 'Christ' no less than He; 'died' no less than that.
Kretzmann: The very object of Christ's death in the case of the weaker brother is frustrated by such thoughtless behavior.
Lenski: Two mighty obligations converge, the one toward the brother and the other toward Christ . . . Christ died to save your brother -- to this extent Christ loved him; by your selfish knowledge and proud power you help to destroy your brother -- that is the extent to which YOU love him.

1 Corinthians 8:12 When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.

"In this way" means "by not loving the weak brother for whom Christ died." 

Grosheide: It is the sin of wounding the conscience of believers, for this conscience is thus driven in a direction where the weak brother would not have gone of his own and where he is not permitted to go.
Kretzmann: So it is not only the weak brother that sins but the stronger Christian that tempted him sins as well. And his is the greater damnation.
Morris: They are 'in Christ,' and anything done against them is accordingly done against Him.

1 Corinthians 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.

"Therefore" draws a conclusion to the entire chapter. We have a fact condition which is assumed to be true. Paul begins with "food" and then switches to "flesh." 

Kretzmann: He will give up even other foods about which another may still be in doubt, not only the food offered to sacrifices.
Lenski: We who are strong in knowledge must be equally strong in love. Knowledge alone is nothing, knowledge combined with love is everything.

Arrogance smells. Love edifies. A fitting observation by Morris in conclusion:

Morris: The principle laid down in this chapter is one of great practical importance. It is always easy for the strong Christian to see no harm whatever in actions which would be sin if performed by the weak.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B, Festival Season Sundays Epistle Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1987, pp. 43-47. Used with permission.

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