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1 Corinthians 8:8-13

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.

8. Atqui esca nos non commendat Deo: neque si comedamus, abundamus, neque si non comedamus, deficimur aliquo.

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

9. Sed videte, ne quo modo facultas haec vestra offendiculo sit infirmis.

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;

10. Si quis enim videat to, utcunque scientiam habeas, in epulo simulacrorum accumbentem; nonne conscientia eius, quum tamen infirmus sit, aedificabitur ad edendum quae sunt idolis immolata?

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

11. Et peribit frater, qui infirmus est, in tua scientia, propter quem Christus mortuus est?

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

12. Sic autem peccantes in fratres, et vuluerantes conscientiam illorum infirmam, in Christum peccatis.

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.

13. Quapropter si esca offendit fratrem meum, nequaquam vescar carnibus in aeternum, ne fratri meo sim offendiculo.

 

8. Meat recommendeth us not to God This was, or may have been, another pretext made use of by the Corinthians — that the worship of God does not consist in meats, as Paul himself teaches in his Epistle to the Romans, (Romans 14:17,) that the kingdom of God is not meat or drink Paul answers: “We must at the same time take care that our liberty does not do injury to our neighbors.” In this he tacitly acknowledges, that in the sight of God it matters not what kinds of food we partake of, because he allows us the free use of them, so far as conscience is concerned; but that this liberty, as to the external use of it, is made subject to love. The argument of the Corinthians, therefore, was defective, inasmuch as they inferred the whole from a part, for in the use of them a regard to the claims of love is included. It is, therefore, certain, that meat recommendeth us not to God; and Paul acknowledges this, but he states this exception, that love is recommended to us by God, which it were criminal to overlook.

Neither if we eat, are we the better. He does not speak of improvement as to the stomach; for the man who has dined has a better filled stomach than the man who goes fasting; but he means, that we have neither more nor less of righteousness from eating or from abstaining. Besides, he does not speak of every kind of abstinence, or of every kind of eating. For excess and luxury are in themselves displeasing to God, while sobriety and moderation are well-pleasing to him. But let it be understood by us, that the kingdom of God, which is spiritual, does not consist in these outward observances, and therefore, that things indifferent are in themselves of no importance in the sight of God. While he brings this forward in the person of others by anthypophora, 469469     Par une maniere d’anticipation;” — “By way of anticipation.” Anthrypophora is a figure of speech which derives its name from the Greek term ἀνθυποφορά, a reply to an objection It is used in this sense by Dionysius Halicarnassensis. — Ed he at the same time admits that it is true, for it is taken from his own doctrine, which we touched upon a little ago.

9. Take heed that your liberty He leaves their liberty untouched, but moderates the use of it thus far — that it may not give occasion of stumbling to the weak. And he expressly desires that regard be had to the weak, that is, to those who are not, yet thoroughly confirmed in the doctrine of piety, for as they are wont to be regarded with contempt, it is the will and command of the Lord, that regard should be had to them. In the meantime, he hints that strong giants, who may be desirous tyrannically to subject our liberty to their humor, may safely be let alone, 470470     “Nous ne nous en devons point soucier, mais les laisser la;” — “We should not concern ourselves as to them, but leave them there.” because we need not fear giving offense to those who are not drawn into sin through infirmity, but eagerly catch at something to find fault with. What he means by an occasion, of stumbling we shall see herelong.

10. If any one see thee. From this it appears more clearly, how much liberty the Corinthians allowed themselves; for when the wicked made a kind of sacred banquet for their idols, they did not hesitate 471471     “Les Corinthiens n’auoyent point de honte;” — “The Corinthians were not ashamed.” to go to it, to eat of the sacrifice along with them. Paul now shows what evil resulted from this. In the first clause, instead of the words who hast knowledge, I have rendered the expression thus — though thou shouldest have; and in the second clause, in the expression who is weak, I have introduced the word notwithstanding. This I found it necessary to do for the clearing up of Paul’s meaning. For he makes a concession, as if he had said: “Be it so, that thou hast knowledge; he who seeth thee, though he is not endowed with knowledge, is notwithstanding confirmed by thine example to venture upon the same thing, while he would never have taken such a step if he had not had one to take the lead. Now when he has one to imitate, he thinks that he has a sufficient excuse in the circumstance that he is imitating another, while in the meantime he is acting from an evil conscience.” For weakness here means ignorance, or scruple of conscience. I am aware, at the same time, in what way others explain it; for they understand the occasion of stumbling to be this — when ignorant persons, induced by example, imagine that in this way they perform some kind of religious service to God, but this idea is quite foreign to Paul’s meaning. For he reproves them, as I have said, 472472     See commentary on 1 Corinthians 8:7. because they emboldened the ignorant to hurry on, contrary to conscience, to attempt what they did not think it lawful for them to do. To be built up means here — to be confirmed 473473     The original word οἰκοδομηθήσεται, shall be built up, is used here, in the opinion of some learned critics, to mean encouraged or emboldened, and a parallel passage is pointed to in Malachi 3:15, where the Hebrew word כבכי is rendered in the Septuagint ἀνοικοδομοῦνται or emboldened It deserves notice, however, that the Apostle had in the commencement of the chapter spoken of love as edifying, while knowledge puffeth up, and it is not improbable that he made use of the same word here ironically, as we would say — “Will not this be edifying the wrong way?” — Ed Now that is a ruinous kind of building, that is not founded on sound doctrine.

11. And thy brother perish Mark how serious an evil it is, that mankind commonly think so little of — that of venturing upon anything with a doubtful or opposing conscience. For the object to which our whole life ought to be directed, is the will of the Lord. This, therefore, is the one thing that vitiates all our actions, when we disregard it. 474474     “Quand nous entreprenons quelque chose center ceste saincte volonte;” — “When we attempt anything in opposition to that holy will.” This we do, not merely by an outward action, but even by a thought of the mind, when we allow ourselves in anything in opposition to conscience, even though the thing be not evil in itself. Let us bear in mind, therefore, that whenever we take a step in opposition to conscience, we are on the high road to ruin.

I read, however, the sentence interrogatively, thus: Shall he perish through thy knowledge? as though he had said: “Is it reasonable that thy knowledge should give occasion of ruin to thy brother? Is it for this reason that thou knowest what is right, that thou mayest cause another’s ruin!” He makes use of the term brother, in order to expose their pride as unfeeling, in this way: “It is true that the person whom you despise is weak, but still he is your brother, for God has adopted him. You act a cruel part, therefore, in having no concern for your brother.” There is, however, still greater force in what follows — that even those that are ignorant or weak have been redeemed with the blood of Christ; for nothing were more unseemly than this, that while Christ did not hesitate to die, in order that the weak might not perish, we, on the other hand, reckon as nothing the salvation of those who have been redeemed with so great a price. A memorable saying, by which we are taught how precious the salvation of our brethren ought to be in our esteem, and not merely that of all, but of each individual in particular, inasmuch as the blood of Christ was poured out for each individual!

12. When ye sin so against the brethren, etc. For if the soul of every one that is weak is the price of Christ’s blood, that man who, for the sake of a very small portion of meat, hurries back again to death the brother who has been redeemed by Christ, shows how contemptible the blood of Christ is in his view. Hence contempt of this kind is an open insult to Christ. In what way a weak conscience may be wounded has been already explained — when it is built up in what is evil (1 Corinthians 8:10) so as daringly and rashly to rush on farther than the individual thinks to be lawful for him.

13. Wherefore if meat make my brother to offend With the view of reproving more severely their disdainful liberty, he declares, that we ought not merely to refrain from a single banquet rather than injure a brother, but ought to give up the eating of meats during our whole life. Nor does he merely prescribe what ought to be done, but declares that he would himself act in this way. The expression, it is true, is hyperbolical, as it is scarcely possible that one should refrain from eating flesh during his whole life, if he remain in common life; 475475     “S’il demelure en la conuersation et communication auec les autres?” — “If he remains in converse and fellowship with others.” but his meaning is, that he would rather make no use of his liberty in any instance, than be an occasion of offense to the weak. For participation is in no case lawful, unless it be regulated by the rule of love. Would that this were duly pondered by those who make everything subservient to their own advantage, so that they cannot endure to give up so much as a hair’s-breadth of their own right for the sake of their brethren; and that they would attend not merely to what Paul teaches, but also to what he marks out by his own example! How greatly superior he is to us! When he, then, makes no hesitation in subjecting himself thus far to his brethren, which of us would not submit to the same condition?

But, however difficult it is to act up to this doctrine, so far as the meaning is concerned, is easy, were it not that some have corrupted it by foolish glosses, and others by wicked calumnies. Both classes err as to the meaning of the word offend For they understand the word offend to mean, incurring the hatred or displeasure of men, or what is nearly the same thing, doing what displeases them, or is not altogether agreeable to them But it appears very manifestly from the context, that it means simply to hinder a brother by bad example (as an obstacle thrown in his way) from the right course, or to give him occasion of falling. Paul, therefore, is not here treating of the retaining of the favor of men, but of the assisting of the weak, so as to prevent their falling, and prudently directing them, that they may not turn aside from the right path. But (as I have said) the former class are foolish, while the latter are also wicked and impudent.

Those are foolish, who allow Christians scarcely any use of things indifferent, lest they should offend superstitious persons. “Paul,” say they, “prohibits here everything that may give occasion of offense Now to eat flesh on Friday will not fail to give offense, and hence we must abstain from it, not merely when there are some weak persons present, but in every case without exception, for it is possible that they may come to know of it.” Not to speak of their misinterpretation of the word rendered occasion of offense, they fall into a grievous blunder in not considering that Paul here inveighs against those who impudently abuse their knowledge in the presence of the weak, whom they take no pains to instruct.

Hence there will be no occasion for reproof, if instruction has been previously given. Farther, Paul does not command us to calculate, whether there may be an occasion of offense in what we do, except when the danger is present to our view.

I come now to the other class. These are pretended followers of Nicodemus, 476476     Our author speaks of the same class of persons when commenting on John 7:50. See Calvin’s Commentary on John, vol. 1, p. 317. — Ed. who under this pretext conform themselves to the wicked by participating in their idolatry, and not contented with justifying what they do amiss, are desirous also to bind others to the same necessity. Nothing could be said with greater plainness to condemn their perverse dissimulation than what Paul here teaches — that all who by their example allure the weak to idolatry, commit a grievous outrage against God as well as men. Yet they eagerly shield themselves from this by endeavoring to show that superstitions ought to be cherished in the hearts of the ignorant, and that we ought to lead the way before them to idolatry, lest a free condemnation of idolatry should offend them. Hence I will not do them the honor of dwelling upon a refutation of their impudence. I simply admonish my readers to compare Paul’s times with ours, and judge from this whether it is allowable to be present at mass, and other abominations, giving so much occasion of offense to the weak


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