1 Corinthians 8

1 Corinthians 8:1

Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.

(a) Things sacrificed to idols. In idol-worshipping cultures, meat that had been offered to idols was often sold for public consumption (1 Cor. 10:25). This raised several issues for Christians, the first of which was, is it okay to eat this meat? To this question James had said no (Acts 15:20). But living in Jerusalem in a church full of ex-Jews, idol meat was not a major issue. The Jews abhorred idols and had little to do with them.

But in the Greek cities it was different. A Gentile convert had been exposed to idol worship his entire life. Could such a person continue to buy meat from the market if there was a good chance that meat had been offered to idols? To this question Paul offered a more nuanced answer: it depends (see entry for 1 Cor. 8:9).

(b) We all have knowledge or “we all have an opinion about this subject.”

(c) Knowledge makes arrogant. Our personal experience or convictions can be a source of pride, particularly where others are still learning. “I used to think the way you did, but I’ve grown.”

(d) But love edifies. The true test is not how much you know, but how much you love. Knowledge makes me feel big, but love causes me to make you feel big.

1 Corinthians 8:2

If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know;

Those who take pride in their superior knowledge have a lot to learn about love.

1 Corinthians 8:3

but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.

God’s children are recognized by their love for God, not their grasp of tricky theological concepts.

1 Corinthians 8:4

Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one.

(a) Concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols. The question of whether Christians could eat food sacrificed to idols was one of the biggest issues facing the New Testament church. The Jerusalem Council discussed it (Acts 15:20) and Paul devoted the better part of two chapters to it (1 Cor. 8, 10).

(b) There is no such thing as an idol in the world. On the one hand, an idol is merely a manmade object lacking any significance. A thing of stone and wood that cannot see, hear or walk can hardly be compared to the Creator of all (Ps. 135:15-16). So food which has been offered to idols is no different from any other sort of food. It hasn’t been changed in any way. However, perception is everything. While we know that there is nothing to idols, others hold strong beliefs (see 1 Cor. 8:7).

(c) There is no God but one. In contrast with the idol-worshipping Greeks, the Jews and Christians believed in a single God above all (Deut. 6:4, Mark 12:29).

1 Corinthians 8:6

yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.

The Father, from whom are all things. Although God is the Father of all (Mal. 2:10, Acts 17:29, Eph. 3:15), the phrase “children of God” usually refers to believers (Rom. 9:8, 1 John 5:2). See entry for Children of God.

1 Corinthians 8:7

However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.

(a) This knowledge, that is, the awareness that idols are nothing and food sacrificed to idols is as good as any other kind of food (1 Cor. 8:4).

(b) Being accustomed to the idol until now. Paul is describing Gentile converts who had grown up as idol worshippers.

In the idol-worshipping cities of Greece, a great part of civic life revolved around the worship of local deities. Public meetings opened with prayers and offerings to the patron god of the town, and trade guilds held dinners in temples. Even something as innocuous as a private meal among friends would usually involve meat left over from a temple sacrifice. A Jewish Christian, having been raised to abhor such things, would never be tempted to participate in these activities. But a Gentile convert had been doing it his whole life. To him it was normal. He didn’t know any other way to live.

(c) Their conscience being weak is defiled. Someone who fears idols or sinning will have strong views about the eating of food that has been sacrificed to idols. They may think that they are participating in idol worship or arousing the anger of the Lord.

A child of God can go any place to shine the light of the gospel. They can even walk into pagan temples where people are bound with superstition. If going to such places helps others get free, it’s a good thing. But if visiting temples reinforces superstition and fear, it’s not.

(d) Conscience. The original word it is made up of two words that loosely translate as “with knowledge.” Your conscience knows when you have crossed the line and missed the mark. From where does your conscience acquire the knowledge of right and wrong? For some, this knowledge is defined by cultural norms. For others, it may come from some religious code such as the Law of Moses. But ultimately any definition of right and wrong is grounded in the character of God. See entry for Conscience.

1 Corinthians 8:8

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

What we eat or don’t eat will not improve our standing before God. As Jesus said, “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them” (Matt. 15:11).

Since the Corinthians were famous for being divided, it may be that there were some who made a big deal about not eating meat that had been offered to idols, while there were others who felt smug in their freedom to eat anything. Paul responds by saying “The meat is irrelevant. It all belongs to God anyway (see 1 Cor. 10:26). The bigger question is whether you are acting in love.”

1 Corinthians 8:9

But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.

Those who lived under the old covenant had to observe a number of dietary restrictions, but in the new covenant we are free to eat anything. You can eat pork and shellfish, or you can be a vegetarian. You can eat meat bought from the marketplace even if there’s a chance it was offered to idols (1 Cor. 10:25). However, if you flaunt your freedom before others, you are not acting in love.

1 Corinthians 8:10

For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols?

(a) If someone sees you. Eat meat in the privacy of your home and nobody will ask questions. But if you are seen eating meat at a temple, that’s going to be a problem two ways. First, you should have nothing to do with temples (see entry for 1 Cor. 10:14). Second, someone who thinks eating idol meat is a sin will be encouraged to do things that violate his conscience.

(b) You who have knowledge. You may know that idols are nothing and meat offered to idols is no different from any other meat (1 Cor. 8:4, 8), but not everyone has this knowledge (1 Cor. 8:7).

(c) His conscience. If your conscience says you are free to eat but his conscience says eating meat from the temple is wrong, then your conscience should not let you flaunt your freedom in front of him (see next two verses).

1 Corinthians 8:11-12

For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

If your freedom causes someone to lose their freedom, you are not acting in love. If Jesus gave his life for that brother, then you can give up idol meat (see next verse).

1 Corinthians 8:13

Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.

In all things we are to be guided by love. What is best for this person? What will help them grow in grace and be free? While your conscience is helpful in determining right from wrong, it is an unreliable guide when it comes to matters of the spirit.

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