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1 Corinthians 8:1-7

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

1. De iis porro quae idolis immolantur, scimus, quod omnes scientiam habemus: scientia inflat, caritas autem aedificat.

2. And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.

2. Si quis autem videtur sibi aliquid scire, nondum quicquam scit, qualiter scire oportet.

3. But if any man love God, the same is known of him.

3. At si quis diligit Deum, hie cognitus est ab illo.

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.

4. De esu ergo eorum quae idolis immolantur, novimus, quod idolum nihil est in mundo, et quod non est alius Deus nisi unus.

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

5. Nam etsi sunt qui vocentur dii, sire in coelo sive super terram, quemadmodum sunt dii multi et domini multi:

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.

6. Nobis tamen unus Deus Pater, ex quo omnia, et nos in ipso: et unus Dominus Iesus Christus, per quem omnia, et nos per ipsum.

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

7. At non est in omnibus scientia: quidam autem cum idoli conscientia nunc quoque tanquam idolo immolatum edunt, et conscientia eorum, infirma quum sit, polluitur.


He now passes on to another question, which he had merely touched upon in the sixth chapter, without fully discussing. For when he had spoken of the avarice of the Corinthians, and had drawn that discussion to a close with this statement — Neither covetous, nor extortioners, nor fornicators, etc., shall inherit the kingdom of God, he passed on to speak of the liberty of Christians — All things are lawful for me. He had taken occasion from this to speak of fornication, and from that, of marriage Now, therefore, he at length follows out what he had touched upon as to things intermediate — how we ought to restrain our liberty in intermediate things. By intermediate things, I mean those that are neither good nor bad in themselves, but indifferent, which God has put in our power, but in the use of which we ought to observe moderation, that there may be a difference between liberty and licentiousness. In the outset, he selects one instance, distinguished above all the others, as to which the Corinthians grievously offended — their having been present on occasion of the sacred banquets, which were held by idolaters in honor of their gods, and eating indiscriminately of the meats that were offered to them. As this gave much occasion of offense, the Apostle teaches them that they rashly perverted the liberty granted them by the Lord.

1. Concerning things offered unto idols. He begins with a concession, in which he voluntarily grants and allows to them everything that they were prepared to demand or object. “I see what your pretext is: you make Christian liberty your pretext. You hold out that you have knowledge, and that there is not one of you that is so ignorant as not to know that there is but one God. I grant all this to be true, but of what avail is that knowledge which is ruinous to the brethren?” Thus, then, he grants them what they demand, but it is in such a way as to show that their excuses are empty and of no avail.

Knowledge puffeth up He shows, from the effects, how frivolous a thing it is to boast of knowledge, when love is wanting. “Of what avail is knowledge, that is of such a kind as puffs us up and elates us, while it is the part of love to edify?” This passage, which otherwise is somewhat obscure, in consequence of its brevity, may easily be understood in this way — “Whatever is devoid of love is of no account in the sight of God; nay more, it is displeasing to him, and much more so what is openly at variance with love Now that, knowledge of which you boast, O ye Corinthians, is altogether opposed to love, for it puffs up men with pride, and leads to contempt of the brethren, while love is concerned for the welfare of brethren, and exhorts us to edify them. Accursed, then, be that knowledge which makes men proud, and is not regulated by a desire of edifying.”

Paul, however, did not mean, that this is to be reckoned as a fault attributable to learning — that those who are learned are often self-complacent, and have admiration of themselves, accompanied with contempt of others. Nor did he understand this to be the natural tendency of learning — to produce arrogance, but simply meant to show what effect knowledge has in an individual, that has not the fear of God, and love of the brethren; for the wicked abuse all the gifts of God, so as to exalt themselves. Thus riches, honors, dignities, nobility, beauty, and other things of that nature, puff up; because men, elated through a mistaken confidence in these things, very frequently become insolent. 458458     “Et intraittables;” — “And insufferable.” Nor is it always so; for we see that many who are rich and beautiful, and abounding in honors, and distinguished for dignity and nobility, are, nevertheless, of a modest disposition, and not at all tainted with pride. And even when it does happen to be so, it is, nevertheless, not proper that we should put the blame upon what we know to be gifts of God; for in the first place that were unfair and unreasonable; and farther, by putting the blame upon things that are not blameworthy, we would exempt the persons themselves from blame, who alone are in fault. My meaning is this — “If riches naturally tend to make men proud, then a rich man, if proud, is free from blame, for the evil arises from riches.”

We must, therefore, lay it down as a settled principle, that knowledge is good in itself; but as piety is its only foundation, 459459     “La crainte de Dieu est le seul et vray fondement d’icelle;” — “The fear of God is its only true foundation.” it becomes empty and useless in wicked men: as love is its true seasoning, where that is wanting it is tasteless. And truly, where there is not that thorough knowledge of God which humbles us, and teaches us to do good to the brethren, it is not so much knowledge, as an empty notion of it, even in those that are reckoned the most learned. At the same time, knowledge is not by any means to be blamed for this, any more than a sword, if it falls into the hands of a madman. Let this be considered as said 460460     “J’ai bien voulu dire ceci;” — “I have felt prepared to say this.” with a view to certain fanatics, who furiously declaim against all the liberal arts and sciences, as if their only use were to puff men up, and were not of the greatest advantage as helps in common life. 461461     “Moyens et instrumens tres-vtiles, tant a la cognoissance de Dieu, qu’a la conduite de la vie commune;” — “Most useful means and instruments, both for the knowledge of God, and for the conduct of common life.” Now those very persons, who defame them in this style, are ready to burst with pride, to such an extent as to verify the old proverb — “Nothing is so arrogant as ignorance.”

2. And if any man thinketh That man thinketh that he knoweth something, who is delighted with the opinion that he entertains of his own knowledge, and despises others, as if he were far above them. For Paul does not here condemn knowledge, but that ambition and haughtiness which ungodly men contract in consequence of it. Otherwise he does not exhort us to be sceptical, so as to be always hesitating and hanging in doubt, and he does not approve of a false and counterfeit modesty, as if it were a good thing to think that we are ignorant of what we do know. That man, therefore, who thinketh that he knoweth something, or, in other words, who is insolent from an empty notion of his own knowledge, so that he prefers himself before others, and is self-conceited, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know For the beginning of all true knowledge is acquaintance with God, which produces in us humility and submission; nay more, it prostrates us entirely instead of elating us. But where pride is, there is ignorance of God 462462     “La regne ignorance et faute de cognoissance de Dieu;” — “There ignorance reigns, and deficiency in acquaintance with God.” — a beautiful passage! Would to God that all knew it aright, so as properly to understand the rule of right knowledge!

3. But if any man loves God Here we have the conclusion, in which he shows what is especially commendable in Christians, and even renders knowledge, and all other endowments worthy of commendation, if we love God; for if it is so, we will also love our neighbors in him. By this means all our actions will be properly regulated, and consequently approved by God. He shows, therefore, from consequences, that no learning is commendable that is not dipped in the love of God; because that alone secures, that whatever endowments we have are approved by him, as it is said in the second Epistle —

If any man be in Christ he is a new creature.
(2 Corinthians 5:17.)

By this he intimates, that without the Spirit of regeneration, all things else, whatever they may have of show, are of no value. To be known by God means to be held in any estimation, or to be reckoned among his sons. Thus he erases all proud persons from the book of life, (Philippians 4:3,) and from the roll of the pious.

4. Concerning, therefore, the eating of those things He now returns to the statement with which he had set out, and speaks more plainly in reference to the pretext made use of by the Corinthians. For as the whole of the evil took its rise from this root — that they were pleased with themselves, and despised others, he condemns, in general, that contemptuous knowledge which is not seasoned with love. Now, however, he explains particularly, what is the kind of knowledge on which they valued themselves — that an idol is an empty figment of the human brain, and must therefore be reckoned as nothing; and accordingly, that the consecration, that is gone through in name of the idol, is a foolish imagination, and of no importance, and that a Christian man, therefore, is not polluted, who, without reverence for the idol, eats of things offered to idols. This is the sum of the excuse, and it is not set aside by Paul as false, (for it contains excellent doctrine,) but because they abused it, in opposition to love

As to the words, Erasmus reads thus — “An idol has no existence.” I prefer the rendering of the old translation — An idol is nothing. For the argument is this — that an idol is nothing, inasmuch as there is but one God; for it follows admirably — “If there is no other God besides our God, then an idol is an empty dream, and mere vanity.” When he says — and there is none other God but one, I understand the conjunction and as meaning because. For the reason why an idol is nothing is, that it must be estimated according to the thing that it represents. Now it is appointed for the purpose of representing God: nay more, for the purpose of representing false gods, inasmuch as there is but one God, who is invisible and incomprehensible. The reason, too, must be carefully observed — An idol is nothing because there is no God but one; for he is the invisible God, and cannot be represented by a visible sign, so as to be worshipped through means of it. Whether, therefore, idols are erected to represent the true God, or false gods, it is in all cases a perverse contrivance. Hence Habakkuk calls idols teachers of lies, (Habakkuk 2:18,) because they deal falsely in pretending to give a figure or image of God, and deceive men under a false title. Hence οὐδεν (nothing) refers not to essence, but to quality — for an idol is made of some substance — either silver, or wood, or stone; but as God does not choose to be represented in this way, it is vanity and nothing as to meaning and use.

5. For though there be that are called “They have,” says he, “the name, but the reality is wanting.” He uses the word called here, to mean — renowned in the estimation of men He has also made use of a general division, when he says in heaven or on earth The gods that are made mention of as being in heaven, are the heavenly hosts, as the Scripture terms the sun, moon, and the other stars. How very far they are, however, from being entitled to divine honors, Moses shows from this, that they were created for our use. The sun is our servant; the moon is our handmaid. How absurd, therefore, it is to render to them divine honors! By the gods that are on earth, are properly meant, in my opinion, men and women for whom religious worship has been appointed. 463463     “Ausquels on a attribue diuinite, et en leur honneur dresse quelque senrice diuin;” — “To whom they have ascribed divinity, and have appointed some divine service in honor of them.” For, as Pliny observes, those who had deserved well of mankind had their memory consecrated by religion, so as to be worshipped as deities — Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Mercury, and Apollo, who were mortal men, but were, after death, exalted to the rank of deities; and, more recently, Hercules, Romulus, and at length the Caesars — as if it were in the power of mankind to make deities at their pleasure, while they cannot give to themselves either life or immortality. There are also other gods that are terrestrial, taken either from cattle or from brute creatures, as, for example, among the Egyptians, the ox, the serpent, the cat, the onion, the garlic; and, among the Romans, the boundary-stone, 464464     The allusion is to Terminus, the god of boundaries, of whom mention is made by Livy (1. 10, and 5. 54.) — Ed. and the stone Vesta. They are gods, then, only in name; but Paul says that he does not stop to notice deifications of this sort. 465465     “Telles consecrations faites a l’appetit des hommes;” — “Such consecrations made according to the humor of men.”

6. But to us there is but one God, the Father Though Paul says these things by anticipation, he repeats the excuse made by the Corinthians, in such a way as at the same time to convey instruction. For, from what is more especially peculiar to God, he proves that there is but one God: “Whatever has its origin from what is foreign to itself, is not eternal, and, consequently, is not God. All things have their origin from one Being: he alone, therefore, is God.” Again — “He is assuredly God who gives existence to all, and from whom all things flow, as from the supreme source; but there is only One, from whom all things flow, and hence there is but one God.” When he adds — and we in him, (εἰς αὐτόν,) he means, that we subsist in God, as it was by him that we were once created. For this clause might, indeed, seem to have another signification — that as we have our beginning from him, so we ought to devote our life to him as its end; and it is used in this sense in Romans 11:39. Here, however, it is taken for ἐν αὐτῷ, which is commonly made use of by the Apostles. His meaning, therefore, is, that as we were once created by God, so it is by his power that we are preserved in our present condition. That this is its meaning, is evident from what he affirms respecting Christ immediately afterwards — that we are by him For he designed to ascribe the same operation to the Father and to the Son, adding, however, the distinction which was suitable to the Persons. He says, then, that we subsist in the Father, and that it is by the Son, because the Father is indeed the foundation of all existence; but, as it is by the Son that we are united to him, so he communicates to us through him the reality of existence.

One Lord These things are affirmed respecting Christ relatively, that is, in relationship to the Father. For all things that are God’s are assuredly applicable to Christ, when no mention is made of persons; but as the person of the Father is here brought into comparison with the person of the Son, it is with good reason that the Apostle distinguishes what is peculiar to them.

Now the Son of God, after having been manifested in the flesh, received from the Father dominion and power over all things, that he might reign alone in heaven and on earth, and that the Father might exercise his authority through his hands. For this reason our Lord is spoken of as one. 466466     “Pour ceste raison quand il est parle de nostre Seigneur, il est dit que nous n’en auons qu’vn, assauoir Christ;” — “For this reason, when mention is made of our Lord, it is declared that we have only one, namely, Christ.” But in respect of dominion being ascribed to him alone, this is not to be taken as meaning that worldly distinctions 467467     “Les degrez, estats, et gouuernemens du monde;” — “Ranks, conditions, and governments of the world.” are abolished. For Paul speaks here of spiritual dominion, while the governments of the world are political; as when he said a little before — there are many that are called lords — (1 Corinthians 8:5) — he meant that, not of kings, or of others who excel in rank and dignity, but of idols or demons, to whom foolish men ascribe superiority and rule. While, therefore, our religion acknowledges but one Lord, this is no hindrance in the way of civil governments having many lords, to whom honor and respect are due in that one Lord

7. But there is not in all that knowledge. He refutes, in a single word, all that he had previously brought forward in their name, showing that it is not enough that they know that what, they do is right, if they have not at the same time a regard to their brethren. When he said above — We know that we all have knowledge, (1 Corinthians 8:1,) he referred to those whom he reproved for abusing their liberty. Now, on the other hand, he calls them to consider, that there are many weak and ignorant persons associated with them, to whom they ought to accommodate themselves. “You have, it is true, a correct judgment in the sight of God, and if you were alone in the world, it would be as lawful for you to eat of things offered to idols, as of any other kinds of food. But consider your brethren, to whom you are debtors. You have knowledge; they are ignorant,. Your actions ought to be regulated not merely according to your knowledge, but also according to their ignorance.” This reply is particularly deserving of notice; for there is nothing to which we are more prone 468468     “Il n’y a rien plus commun et ordinaire que ce vice;” — “There is nothing that is more common and ordinary than this fault.” than this, that every one follows his own advantage, to the neglect of that of others. Hence we feel prepared to rest in our own judgment, and do not consider, that the propriety of those works that we do in the sight of men depends not merely on our own conscience, but also on that of our brethren.

Some with conscience of the idol This is their ignorance, that they were still under the influence of some superstitious notion, as if there were some virtue in the idol, or some virtue in a wicked and idolatrous consecration. Paul, however, does not speak of idolaters, who were entire strangers to pure religion, but of ignorant persons who had not been sufficiently instructed, to understand that an idol is nothing, and therefore that the consecration, which was gone through in name of the idol, is of no importance. Their idea, therefore, was this: “As an idol is something, the consecration which is gone through in its name is not altogether vain, and hence those meats are not pure, that have been once dedicated to idols.” Hence they thought, that, if they ate of them, they contracted some degree of pollution, and were, in a manner, partakers with the idol. This is the kind of offense that Paul reproves in the Corinthians — when we induce weak brethren, by our example, to venture upon anything against their conscience.

And their conscience God would have us try or attempt nothing but what we know for certain is agreeable to him. Whatever, therefore, is done with a doubting conscience, is, in consequence of doubts of that kind, faulty in the sight of God. And this is what he says, (Romans 14:23,) Whatsoever is not of faith is sin Hence the truth of the common saying, that “those build for hell, who build against their conscience.” For as the excellence of actions depends on the fear of God and integrity of conscience, so, on the other hand, there is no action, that is so good in appearance, as not to be polluted by a corrupt affection of the mind. For the man, who ventures upon anything in opposition to conscience, does thereby discover some contempt of God; for it is a token that we fear God, when we have respect to his will in all things. Hence you are not without contempt of God, if you so much as move a finger while uncertain, whether it may not be displeasing to him. As to meats, there is another thing to be considered, for they are not sanctified to us otherwise than by the word (1 Timothy 4:5.) If that word is wanting, there remains nothing but pollution — not that the creatures of God are polluted, but because man’s use of them is impure. In fine, as men’s hearts are purified by faith, so without faith there is nothing that is pure in the sight of God.

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