1 CORINTHIANS - CHAPTER 8
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2000 James Melough
“Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have
knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but
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.
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.
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.
is against this background that the question of the Corinthian’s has to be
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.
“If any man thinketh that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he
ought to know.”
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.
“But if any man love God, the same is known of him.”
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
“For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth,
(as there be gods many, and lords many,)”
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.
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
“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.”
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”).
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.
“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.”
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.
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).
“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.”
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.
“But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a
stumblingblock to them that are weak.”
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.
“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;”
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
is need for care in regard to our own social activities, that we don’t become
guilty of the same subtle dissimulation.
“And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ
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
“But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience,
ye sin against Christ.”
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).
“Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the
world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”
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.”