For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2000 James Melough

8:1.  “Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge.  Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.”

It seems that idolatry was another topic about which the Corinthians had asked Paul for information, and while at first it may seem totally unrelated to what was discussed in chapter 7, there is a closer connection than is at first apparent, for immorality and idolatry almost invariably go hand in hand.

Every city had at least one patron god or goddess.  Many of them had several, each having its own temple and coterie of priests, and in addition, every trade guild had also its patron deity; and feasts, held in the temple or in private homes, to honor these gods, were a normal part of the social life of each city.  It was therefore virtually impossible to avoid attending such feasts, a fact which confronted the believers with a dilemma: attendance implied association with the god, and would bring the censure of believers who held that such attendance was wrong; refusal to attend could be construed by the people as an insult to the god, and was likely to incur their wrath since it was believed that an affronted god had the power to retaliate, not just against the offender, but against the whole city, by means of famine, fire, flood, plague, war, etc.

And there was yet another difficulty for the believers.  The animals and birds sacrificed to those pagan gods, were sold in the market or in the temple itself, and constituted virtually all of the available meat, so that it was practically impossible for a Christian to obtain meat without being accused of association with the god to whom it had been offered.

It is against this background that the question of the Corinthian’s has to be understood.

The Apostle begins by agreeing that they all had some knowledge relative to idolatry, e.g., they were presumably aware that the idol itself was nothing, and that there was only the one true God; but he hastens to add that knowledge without love is of little value, for knowledge puffs up him who possesses it, but love builds up, not only him who loves, but those also to whom love is shown, and the implication is that they lacked that love for the Lord and for one another which would have made even their limited knowledge useful.  See also chapter 13 for Paul’s further comments on love.

8:2.  “If any man thinketh that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.”

As noted already, the Corinthians set a high value on mere knowledge, and here, as in chapters 1, 2 and 13, Paul has to emphasize that knowledge alone is of little worth, but, combined with love, is transmuted into something of great value, the first result of the combination of knowledge and love being to keep the possessor from the pride that accompanies the possession of knowledge alone.  True knowledge has about it an indefinable quality which the possessor knows to have been given by God, and that realization banishes pride, for the man understands that it was given, not because of worth in him, but by the grace of God, as he understands also that it could just as easily have been given instead to another.  This most of the Corinthians had not yet learned.

8:3.  “But if any man love God, the same is known of him.”

Love for God isn’t to be measured just by what we say, but by whether we obey, for the best expression of love for God is obedience, as declared by the Lord Himself, “If ye love me, keep my commandments .... He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him” (Jn 14:15-21). 

“... the same is known of Him.”  God knows those who love Him, and the recompense of that love is that He gives to them a fuller revelation of Himself.  We must note, however, that while certainly there is a miraculous element to that manifestation, it isn’t divorced from effort on the part of the believer, for everything that  can be known of God is contained in Scripture.  It follows therefore that he who would know more of God must be willing to study the written Word which reveals Him, but unless love impels that study, it will be a mere academic exercise yielding little in the way of true knowledge.  In the spiritual realm, as in the natural, love desires to know more of its object.  He who loves God desires to know more of Him, and that desire makes him also a lover of Scripture, for it is there that the knowledge of God is contained.

That revelation isn’t given to the disobedient, for it is given only through the Holy Spirit Who takes the things of Christ and reveals them to us, “When he the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak; and he will shew you things to come.  He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you” (Jn 16:13-14).  Since that revelation is the recompense of obedience, it follows that it won’t be given to the disobedient.

8:4.  “As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.”

Paul begins by pointing out that since there is only one God, all others exist only in the minds of their devotees, so that an idol doesn’t really represent anything.

8:5.  “For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)”

In the minds of unbelieving men, however, multitudes of these so-called gods exist both in the air and on the earth; and Paul’s referring to them also as lords, reminds us that the tyrannous power wielded over the minds of deluded men, by these imaginary gods, is very real.

Having declared that idols are the representations of imaginary gods, the Apostle goes on to point out in 10:20, however, that what is sacrificed to idols, is actually sacrificed, not to imaginary gods, but to very real devils (demons or evil spirits), “But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils (demons), and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils (demons)”.  Vine points out that “There is only one Devil; where the plural is used the rendering should always be ‘demons’”.

8:6.  “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.”

The believer knows that there is only one God, and such is the miracle of grace that we are privileged to know Him also as our Father, so that while His authority remains, it is not that of a tyrannous god, but of a benevolent Father, that Father-God being the origin of all things, and the One for Whom we and everything else exist.  The equality of Christ with the Father is declared in that He too is the One by Whom, and for Whom we and all things exist.  (Vine makes the instructive comment that “Whereas the everlasting power and Divinity of God are manifest in creation (Ro 1:20), His Fatherhood is the subject of revelation (Mt 11:27; Jn 17:25).  The relationship is not universal (Mt 13:38; Jn 8:23, 41-44), it exists only for those who have been born anew (Jn 1:12;,13; Gal 3:26; 1 Jn 3:1; 5:1”).

It is obvious that the words “and we by him” refer, not to our creation as natural men, but to our having become “a new creation” as a result of Calvary’s perfectly completed work.

8:7.  “Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol until this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.”

Not all of Paul’s readers possessed his knowledge, for some of them, having been accustomed all their lives to believe that the idols they had worshipped represented real gods, found it difficult to abandon that belief completely, so that for them to eat meat that had been offered to an idol would cause pricking of conscience, since in their minds the meat would imply association with the idol, and they would feel guilty.  As Paul makes clear in Romans 14 it is better for that man not to eat.  He, however, is not to condemn another brother who does eat such meat with a clear conscience, nor is that brother who eats, to condemn the one who doesn’t.

But the principle goes beyond the eating of meat that had been offered to an idol.  We are to be careful that nothing we do will offend another believer, but so that that care doesn’t become the means of placing the strong (the mature) under the restrictions imposed upon the weaker brother by his lack of knowledge, the weak brother is forbidden to criticize the liberty that attends the greater knowledge of the mature (Ro 14:3).

8:8.  “But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.”

It isn’t what we eat or refrain from eating that wins God’s approval: it is whether we have obedient hearts.  The knowledge which enables me to eat with a clear conscience, doesn’t win His approval, for after all, it was He Who gave that knowledge; nor if I don’t eat will He condemn me for my lack of knowledge which He hasn’t given.

8:9.  “But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.”

This warns against the abuse of Christian liberty.  Care must be taken to ensure that the strong, in using his liberty, doesn’t lead another believer into sin, by encouraging him to do what his  conscience is telling him is wrong. 

8:10.  “For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;”

It is difficult to see how there could be such liberty of conscience in view of what is written in 1 Tim 5:22 “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”  Surely this alone should have kept the man out of the heathen temple.  It seems, however, that some in the assembly condoned such conduct, and there is at least the suspicion that the exercise of this so-called liberty was simply a subtle way of avoiding any criticism or persecution that might have resulted from the brother’s refusal of the invitation to the feast.  A “strong” brother might thus evade the censure of the heathen, but that was too high a price to pay, for it could tempt a weak brother, against his conscience, to do the same, and thereby sin, for it is sin to do what consci­ence forbids.

There is need for care in regard to our own social activities, that we don’t become guilty of the same subt­le dissim­ulation.

8:11.  “And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?”

“Perish” doesn’t mean destruction, but rather, the loss of well-being; and in the case of the weak brothe­r, that loss would consist of his losing peace, first with himself for violating his conscience, and then with God as a further result of that violation, for communion with God is impossible when there is a guilty conscience.  And Paul sets the matter in proper perspective by reminding his readers that the stumbled brother is also one for whom Christ has died.  How great then is the offense which causes a brother to stumble by encouraging him to sin against his con­science, when to save that man’s soul, the Lord was willing to give up His life!  Surely brotherly love should make it easy for me to give up the exercise of all such “liberty.”

8:12.  “But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ­.”

The conduct which brings such evil results isn’t Christian liberty is sin, and is particularly abhorrent to God for it not only hurts those for whom Christ has died, but also the Lord Himself, for we are to remember that every believer is a member of that mystical body of which Christ is the Head, as it is written, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ .... Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular” (1 Co 12:12, 27); “We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones” (Eph 5:30).  In regard to those who constitute that body, the Lord Himself declares, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Mt 25:40).

8:13.  “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”

This is the God-appointed balance that will prevent the liberty of one from becoming the stumblingblock that causes another believer to sin.   It is to be noted, however, that this concession doesn’t extend to accommodating the lack of knowledge that would involve the abandonment of sound doctrine, as Vine so aptly comments, “Any length in self-denial, but not an inch in surrendering truth!  Romans 15:2 sets the limit of yielding to scrupulosity.  The weak are to be considered so far as their edification in Christian faith and conduct is concerned.  There must be no habitual government by the weak, or legislation by the unintelligent.”

[1 Corinthians 9]



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough