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Introduction to 1st Corinthians Chapter 8

IN this chapter another subject is discussed, which had been proposed by the church at Corinth for the decision of the apostle:

Whether it was right for Christians to partake of the meat that had been offered in sacrifice to idols? On this question there would be doubtless a difference of opinion kmong the Corinthian Christians. When those sacrifices were made to heathen gods, a part of the animal was given to the priest that officiated, a part was consumed on the altar, and a part (probably the principal part) was the property of him who offered it. This part was either eaten by him at home, as food which had been in some sense consecrated or blessed by having been offered to an idol; or it was partaken of at a feast in honour of the idol; or it was in some instances exposed for sale in the market, in the same way as other meat. Whether, therefore, it would be right to partake of that food, either when invited to the house of a heathen friend, or when it was exposed for sale in the market, was a question which could not but present itself to a conscientious Christian. The objection to partaking of it would be, that to partake of it either in the temples or at the feasts of their heathen neighbours, would be to lend their countenance to idolatry. On the other hand, there were many who supposed that it was always lawful, and that the scruples of their brethren were needless. Some of their arguments Paul has alluded to in the course of the chapter: they were, that an idol was nothing in the world; that there was but one God, and that every one must know this; and that, therefore; there was no danger that any worshipper of the true God could be led into the absurdities of idolatry, 1 Co 8:4-6. To this the apostle replies, that though there might be this knowledge, yet

(1.) knowledge sometimes puffed up, and made us proud, and that we should be careful lest it should lead us astray by our vain self-confidence, 1 Co 8:1,2,7.


(2.) That all had not that knowledge, (1 Co 8:7) and that they even then, notwithstanding all the light which had been shed around them by Christianity, and notwithstanding the absurdity of idolatry, still regarded an idol as a real existence, as a god, and worshipped it as such; and that it would be highly improper to countenance in any way that idea. He left the inference, therefore, that it was not proper, from this argument, to partake of the sacrifices to idols.

A second argument in favour of partaking of that food is alluded to in 1 Co 8:8; to wit, that it must be in itself a matter of indifference; that it could make no difference before God, where all depended on moral purity and holiness of heart, whether a man had eaten meat or not; that we were really no better or worse for it; and that, therefore, it was proper to partake of that food. To this Paul replies,

(1.) that though this was true, as an abstract proposition, yet it might be the occasion of leading others into sin, 1 Co 8:9.

(2.) That the effect on a weak brother would be to lead him to suppose that an idol was something, and to confirm him in his supposition that an idol should have some regard, and be worshipped in the temple, 1 Co 8:10.

(3.) That the consequence might be, that a Christian of little information and experience might be drawn away and perish, 1 Co 8:11.

(4.) That this would be to sin against Christ, if a feeble Christian should be thus destroyed, 1 Co 8:12. And,

(5.) that as for himself, if indulgence in meat was in any way the occasion of making another sin, he would eat no meat as long as the world stood, (1 Co 8:13;) since to abstain from meat was a far less evil than the injury or destruction of an immortal soul.

Verse 1. Now as touching. In regard to; in answer to your inquiry whether it is right or not to partake of those things.

Things offered unto idols. Sacrifices unto idols. Meat that had been offered in sacrifice, and then either exposed to sale in the market, or served up at the feasts held in honour of idols at their temples, or at the houses of their devotees. The priests, who were entitled to a part of the meat that was offered in sacrifice, would expose it to sale in the market; and it was a custom with the Gentiles to make feasts in honour of the idol gods on the meat that was offered in sacrifice. See 1 Co 8:10 of this chapter, and 1 Co 10:20,21. Some Christians would hold that there could be no harm in partaking of this meat any more than any other meat, since an idol was nothing; and others would have many scruples in regard to it, since it would seem to countenance idol worship. The request made of Paul was, that he should settle some general principle which they might all safely follow.

We know. We admit; we cannot dispute; it is so plain a case that no one can be ignorant on this point. Probably these are the words of the Corinthians, and perhaps they were contained in the letter which was sent to Paul. They would affirm that they were not ignorant in regard to the nature of idols; they were well assured that they were nothing at all; and hence they seemed to infer that it might be right and proper to partake of this food anywhere and everywhere, even in the idol temples themselves. See 1 Co 8:10. To this Paul replies in the course of the chapter, and particularly in 1 Co 8:7.

That we all have knowledge. That is, on this subject; we are acquainted with the true nature of idols, and of idol worship; we all esteem an idol to be nothing, and cannot be in danger of being led into idolatry, or into any improper views in regard to this subject, by participating of the food and feasts connected with idol worship. This is the statement and argument of the Corinthians. To this Paul makes two answers.

(1.) In a parenthesis in 1 Co 8:1-3, to wit, that it was not safe to rely on mere knowledge in such a case, since the effect of mere knowledge was often to puff men up and to make them proud, but that they ought to act rather from "charity," or love; and,

(2.) that though the mass of them might have this knowledge, yet that all did not possess it, and they might be injured, 1 Co 8:7. Having stated this argument of the Corinthians, that all had knowledge, in 1 Co 8:1, Paul then in a parenthesis states the usual effect of knowledge, and shows that it is not a safe guide, 1 Co 8:1-3. In 1 Co 8:4, he resumes the statement (commenced in 1 Co 8:1) of the Corinthians, but which, in a mode quite frequent in his writings, he had broken off by his parenthesis on the subject of knowledge; and in 1 Co 8:4-6, he states the argument more at length—concedes that there was to them but one God, and that the majority of them must know that; but states in 1 Co 8:7, that all had not this knowledge, and that those who had knowledge ought to act so as not to injure those who had not.

Knowledge puffeth up. This is the beginning of the parenthesis. It is the reply of Paul to the statement of the Corinthians, that all had knowledge. The sense is, "Admitting that you all have knowledge; that you know what is the nature of an idol, and of idol worship; yet mere knowledge in this case is not a safe guide; its effect may be to puff up, to fill with pride and self-sufficiency, and to lead you astray. Charity, or love, as well as knowledge, should be allowed to come in as a guide in such cases, and will be a safer guide than mere knowledge." There had been some remarkable proofs of the impropriety of relying on mere knowledge as a guide in religious matters among the Corinthians, and it was well for Paul to remind them of it. These pretenders to uncommon wisdom had given rise to their factions, disputes, and parties, (see chap. i.—iii.;) and Paul now reminds them that it was not safe to rely on such a guide. And it is no more safe now than it was then. Mere knowledge, or science, when the heart is not right, fills with pride; swells a man with vain self-confidence and reliance in his own powers, and very often leads him entirely astray. Knowledge combined with right feelings, with pure principles, with a heart filled with love to God and men, may be trusted; but not mere intellectual attainments—mere abstract science—the mere cultivation of the intellect. Unless the heart is cultivated with that, the effect of knowledge is to make a man a pedant; to fill him with vain ideas of his own importance; and thus to lead him into error and to sin.

But charity edifieth. Love, (h agaph;) so the word means; and so it would be well to translate it. Our word charity we now apply almost exclusively to alms, giving, or to the favourable opinion which we entertain of others when they seem to be in error or fault. The word in the Scripture means simply love. See Barnes "1 Co 13:1"

and following. The sense here is, "Knowledge is not a safe guide, and should not be trusted. Love to each other and to God, true Christian affection, will be a safer guide than mere knowledge. Your conclusion on this question should not be formed from mere abstract knowledge; but you should ask what LOVE to others—to the peace, purity, happiness, and salvation of your brethren—would demand. If love to them would prompt to this course, and permit you to partake of this food, it should be done; if not, if it would injure them, whatever mere knowledge would dictate, it should not be done." The doctrine is, that love to God and to each other is a better guide in determining what to do than mere knowledge. And it is so. It will prompt us to seek the welfare of others, and to avoid what would injure them. It will make us tender, affectionate, and kind; and will better tell us what to do, and how to do it in the best way, than all the abstract knowledge that is conceivable. The man who is influenced by love, ever pure and ever glowing, is not in much danger of going astray, or of doing injury to the cause of God. The man who relies on his knowledge is heady, high-minded, obstinate, contentious, vexatious, perverse, opinionated; and most of the difficulties in the church arise from such men. Love makes no difficulty, but heals and allays all: mere knowledge heals or allays none, but is often the occasion of most bitter strife and contention. Paul was wise in recommending that the question should be settled by love; and it would be wise if all Christians would follow his instructions.

{a} "unto idols" Ac 15:10,19 {b} "knowledge" Ro 14:14,22 {c} "puffeth" Isa 47:10 {*} "charity" "love" {d} "edifieth" 1 Co 13

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