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1 Corinthians 8


Food Offered to Idols Be Sensitive to Conscience May A Christian Eat Food
Consecrated to an Idol?
The Question About Food
Offered to Idols
Food Offered to False Gods
        General Principles
8:1-6 8:1-13 8:1-3 8:1 8:1-6
    8:4-6 8:4-6 The Claims of Knowledge
8:7-13   8:7-13 8:7-8 8:7-13

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one main subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. The literary context runs from 8:1 through 11:1 as the outline above of NJB shows.


B. The question of eating meat offered to idols seems very strange to moderns. But in the context of Paul's day and the people of Corinth it was a very important issue. Most social gatherings had religious connotations in Paul's day. Also, the meat that was sold in the marketplaces of Corinth was mostly, it not all, from one of the heathen temples.


C. Theologically chapter 8 is parallel to Romans 14:1-15:13. See Special Topic at Contextual Insights from Rom. 14:1-15:13 at I Cor. 6:12, which are notes taken from my commentary on Rom. 14:1-15:13. Both of these deal with the complicated and difficult subject of how a Christian balances his/her freedom in Christ and his/her responsibility in love to others.

Gordon Fee, To What End Exegesis?, pp. 105-128, thinks that this context refers not to just eating food sacrificed to an idol, but to actually attending and participating in the meal at the idol's temple (which often involved sexual activity as well, cf. 10:6-22).

D. This chapter also emphasizes that knowledge, even revelatory knowledge, when it is not balanced with love for others, is only partially true (cf. 13:1-13).


E. I think James D. G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, p. 319, has a good summary statement.

"He would not stand for Jewish Christians narrowing down Christian liberty into legalism (Gal. 5:1ff; Phil. 3:2ff); but neither would he stand for Gentile Christians perverting Christian liberty into license and elitism (Rom. 16:17f; I Cor. 5-6; 8-10; cf II Thess. 3:6,14f)."


For Paul "the gospel for all," was the guiding principle! This is powerfully expressed in his own words in I Cor. 9:19-23!


Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. 2If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; 3 but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.

8:1 "Now concerning things sacrificed to idols" This is another question (cf. 7:1,25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1,12) that was asked by the Corinthian church in a letter which they wrote to Paul, brought by Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (cf. 16:17).

NASB"things sacrificed to idols"
NKJV"things offered to idols"
NRSV"food sacrificed to idols"
TEV"food offered to idols"
NJB"food which has been dedicated to false gods"

This is a compound term from eidōlon, which means a shape, figure, image, or statue; and thuō, which means to kill or to offer a sacrifice. This very term was used to prohibit eating meat offered to an idol in the letter sent to Gentile churches from the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:29 (cf. Acts 21:25).

▣ "we know that we all have knowledge" Possibly this is

1. a quote from the letter that the Corinthian church wrote to Paul

2. a slogan of one of the factious groups

3. a quote from Paul's earlier preaching, which the Corinthian church had misunderstood


▣ "Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies" Paul agrees with the statements contained in the Corinthian church's letter, but limits the concepts and shows their true meaning and application (this is also true of the false teachers' slogans in chapters 6-7).

Knowledge was one of the aspects of Greek culture in which some in the Corinthian church prided themselves. The problem with knowledge is that it tends to make one competitive and prideful (cf. 4:6,18,19; 5:2; 8:1; 13:4; II Cor. 12:20). See full note at 4:6. It focuses on the individual, not on the family, the body, the church.

The term "edify" is a building metaphor. Paul often speaks of "building up" or "edifying" the church or individual Christians (cf. Rom. 14:19; 15:2; I Cor. 8:1; 10:23; 14:3,5,12,26; II Cor. 10:8; 12:19; 13:10; Eph. 4:12,29; I Thess. 5:11).

Love is crucial in our Christian freedom. Knowledge will not solve the problem of pride; only self-limiting love can do this. Believers are to pursue that which builds up the church, not that which glorifies gifted individual Christians.


8:2 "If" This is a first class conditional sentence, which is assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes (cf. vv. 3,5).

▣ "anyone supposes that he knows anything" This is a perfect active indicative followed by a perfect infinitive. This reflects the settled arrogance of the Corinthian church (cf. 3:18).

NASB"he has not yet known as he ought to know"
NKJV"he knows nothing yet as he ought to know"
NRSV"does not yet have the necessary knowledge"
TEV"really don't know as they ought to know"
NJB"and yet not know it as well as he should"

Paul reveals their lack of spiritual knowledge. Worldly wisdom (i.e., human philosophy) causes divisions and arrogance, but God's knowledge of us (cf. 13:12; Gal. 4:9) and our knowledge of the gospel free us to serve Him and His people.

8:3 "but if anyone loves God" This is a first class conditional sentence. There were those at Corinth who loved God. Notice Paul's emphasis is on love (i.e., present active indicative), not on knowledge (cf. 13:1-13).

▣ "he is known by Him" This may be another example of the slogans of those who claimed to be more enlightened and spiritual. It is very similar to a later Gnostic phrase found in Gospel of Truth 19.33. The truly enlightened ones know that there are not divisions between humans, not between

1. Jesus - Gentile

2. slaves - free

3. males - females

4. strong - weak

All barriers are "down" in Christ!

Our knowledge of God is important, but knowledge about God is no substitute for a personal relationship, initiated by God, that issues in our love for one another which expresses our love for Him (cf. Gal. 4:6; II Tim. 2:19; I John 4:19).

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. 5For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, 6yet 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.

8:4 "we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world" There is a word play on the connotations in these versesbetween the Hebrew concept of "know" as personal relationship (cf. v. 3; Gen. 4:1; Jer. 1:5) and the Greek connotation of "know" as facts about something or someone (cf. vv. 1,2,4).

In the OT idols were "empty" or "vain." They were not gods at all (cf. II Chr. 13:9; Isa. 37:19; 41:29; Jer. 2:11; Acts 14:15; Gal. 4:8). Paul, later in I Corinthians, asserts that demons use people's superstitions and idolatry (cf. 10:20), but there is no reality to idols!

"there is no God but one" This is the theological affirmation of monotheism (cf. I Tim. 2:5-6). According to biblical revelation there is only one true God (cf. v. 6; Deut. 4:35,39; Ps. 86:8,10). Often the OT speaks of other "elohim" (i.e., spiritual beings), but none like (i.e., in the same category, cf. Exod. 20:2-3; Deut. 32:39) YHWH (cf. Exod. 15:11; Ps. 86:8; 89:6). The Jewish prayer called the Shema from Deut. 6:4, is the Jewish affirmation quoted daily and at every worship service asserting the uniqueness and oneness of YHWH (cf. Mark 12:28-29).


8:6 "yet for us there is but one God" This is the theological affirmation of monotheism. See note at v. 4.

In the history of religion there have been several categories of beliefs about deity.

1. animism, spiritual beings are related to natural processes or objects

2. polytheism, the existence of many gods

3. henotheism, many gods, but only one god for us (i.e., tribe, nation, geographical area)

4. monotheism, the existence of only one God (not the High God of a pantheon)

This text asserts the existence of many spiritual beings (cf. v. 5), but only one true God (cf. v. 4, see SPECIAL TOPIC: MONOTHEISM at 8:4). For those in the Judeo-Christian tradition there is only one creator/redeemer God who exists in three eternal persons. See Special Topic at 2:10.

"the Father" This is a wonderful intimate, personal, familial title for deity. It emphasizes God's immanence. This aspect of God can only be known by His self-revelation, not human philosophy or discovery.

Although this familial title appears in the OT sparsely (cf. Deut. 32:5-6; Isa. 63:16; 64:8; Jer. 31:9,20; Hos. 11:3-4; Mal. 1:6; 2:10), it was Jesus, the Son, who fully revealed this astonishing, intimate, metaphorical analogy (cf. "our Father," Matt. 6:9; 23:9; Eph. 4:6; Abba, Mark 14:36). See Special Topic at 1:3).

▣ "from whom are all things" This is affirmation of God as creator (cf. 11:12; Rom. 11:36; II Cor. 5:18; Col. 1:16; Heb. 2:10). See SPECIAL TOPIC: FIRSTBORN at 15:20.

"and we exist for Him" God made the world as a stage for humankind to have fellowship with Himself. Once the results of human rebellion (cf. Genesis 3) have been overcome in our salvation and restoration through Christ, we understand our intended purpose. Once the image of God in mankind is restored through Christ then the intimate, personal fellowship of Eden is restored.

▣ "one Lord, Jesus Christ" The title "Lord" reflects an OT translation of YHWH, which is the Hebrew verb "to be" (cf. Exod. 3:14, see Special Topic at 2:8). The Jews were afraid to pronounce this holy name lest they take it in vain, therefore, they substituted the Hebrew term Adon or Lord.

Calling Jesus Lord (i.e., kurios is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Adon) is a way of affirming His deity and oneness with YHWH (cf. Phil. 2:11). The concept of oneness is also significant (cf. Eph. 4:5; I Tim. 2:5).

Although Paul does not use Theos (i.e., God) for Jesus in this context, he does use it of Jesus in Acts 20:28; Rom. 9:5; and Titus 2:13 and Theotētus in Col. 2:9. There can be no doubt that in Paul's mind Jesus is divine. Paul was a strict monotheist. He never qualifies how one God can eternally exist in three personal manifestations, but that is the obvious conclusion. See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE TRINITY at 2:10.

▣ "by whom are all things, and we exist through Him" Jesus was the Father's agent in creation (cf. John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2). This was the role of personified wisdom in Proverbs 8:22-31. Wisdom is feminine in Hebrew (cf. Pro. 8:1-21) because the noun "wisdom" (BDB 315) is a feminine gender noun. In this passage we see the tension between our affirmation of monotheism and the NT revelation of the Trinity. See Special Topic at 2:10.

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. 8But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. 9But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For 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? 11For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. 12And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.

8:7 "However not all men have this knowledge" In context this refers to the "weaker" and "stronger" Christian (cf. Rom. 14:1,2,14,22-23; 15:1). "Weak" in this context refers to superstition or legalism connected with one's past, unconverted life. This is a sarcastic glance back to v. 1 and the arrogance of certain factions of the church of Corinth and their emphasis on wisdom and knowledge (cf. v. 11).

▣ "and their conscience being weak is defiled" Believers must act in faith on the light we have (cf. Rom. 14:23), even when this knowledge is erroneous or spiritually childish. Believers are only responsible for what they do understand.

Paul uses the term "conscience" often in the Corinthian letters (cf. 4:4; 8:7,10,12; 10:25,27,28,29; II Cor. 1:12; 4:2; 5:11). It refers to that moral inner sense of what is appropriate or inappropriate (cf. Acts 23:1). The conscience can be affected by our past lives, our poor choices, or by the Spirit of God. It is not a flawless guide, but it does determine the boundaries of individual faith. Therefore, to violate our conscience, even if it is in error or weak, is a major faith problem.

The believer's conscience needs to be more and more formed by the Word of God and the Spirit of God (cf. I Tim. 3:9). God will judge believers by the light they have (i.e., weak or strong), but all of us need to be open to the Bible and the Spirit for more light and to be growing in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. See fuller note on "conscience" at 10:25. See SPECIAL TOPIC: WEAKNESS at II Cor. 12:9.

▣ "defiled" This term originally referred to unclean clothing (cf. Zech. 3:3-4; Jude 23; Rev. 3:4). It came to be used figuratively for moral pollution (cf. Rev. 14:4).

It is surprising that this term is chosen to describe what happens to weak believers who violate their own faith boundaries. God looks at the heart in every situation. Breaking our faith understanding, even if weak or inappropriate, is a serious breach of faith!

8:8 "But food will not commend us to God" This shows the faulty theology, both of those who affirm asceticism, or Jewish legalism, as well as those who affirm radical freedom. Neither eating or not eating will present us acceptable to God (cf. Rom. 14:14,23; Mark 7:18-23). Love for God expressed in self-limiting love for other brothers and sisters in Christ is the key to peace and maturity within the Christian fellowship.

▣ "commend" See Special Topic: Abound at II Cor. 2:7.

▣ "if. . .if" There are two third class conditional phrases in v. 8, which show potential action.


NASB, NRSV"But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow becomes a stumbling block to the weak"
NKJV"But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours becomes a stumbling block to those who are weak"
TEV"Be careful, however, not to let your freedom of action make those who are weak in the faith fall into sin"
NJB"Only be careful that this freedom of yours does not in anyway turn into an obstacle to trip those who are vulnerable"

This is a present active imperative. Christian freedom (i.e., exousia, cf. 9:4,5,6,12,18) must be controlled by love or it becomes a license (cf. 10:23-33; 13:1-13; Rom. 14:1-15:13). We are our brother's keeper!

This subject of Christian freedom and responsibility is also discussed in Rom. 14:1-15:13. See the Contextual Insights from my commentary on Romans, chapters 14 and 15 at I Cor. 6:12.

8:10 "if" This is another third class conditional, which means potential action. The grammar of v. 10 expects a "yes" answer.

NASB, NKJV"someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol's temple"
NRSV"others see you who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol"
TEV"Suppose a person whose conscience is weak in this matter, sees you, who have so-called 'knowledge' eating in the temple of an idol"
NJB"Suppose someone sees you who have the knowledge, sitting in the temple of some false god"

This phrase is translated ambiguously in NASB and NKJV. The idiomatic, dynamic equivalent translations of TEV and NJB capture the thought.

The knowledge Paul is referring to goes back to vv. 1-4. Strong believers know that there is only one God (cf. v. 4). Weak believers are still influenced by the past. Strong believers bend over backwards so as not to offend their weak brothers or sisters in Christ or sincere seekers (cf. v. 1).

True spiritual strength is not in knowledge only, but in loving actions toward other believers, even weak ones, superstitious ones, legalistic ones, ascetic ones, baby ones! True knowledge makes one a humble steward of the undeserved grace of God in Christ!

"dining in an idol's temple" See notes at 10:14-22.

NASB"be strengthened"
NKJV"be emboldened to eat"
NRSV"be encouraged to the point of eating"
TEV"will not this encourage him to eat"
NJB"may be encouraged to eat"

This is the term "build up" or "edify" as in verse 1. Here it is used in either

1. a sarcastic sense about the destructive influence of the stronger brother's actions

2. a possible quote from the Corinthian letter related to how to help those with weak faith



NASB"For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died"
NKJV"And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died"
NRSV"So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed"
TEV"And so this weak person, your brother for whom Christ died, will perish because of your 'knowledge'"
NJB"And then it would be through your knowledge that this brother for whom Christ died, vulnerable as he is, has been lost"

The order of the Greek sentence emphasizes "your" (i.e., this so called superior knowledge you possess). When one Christian's freedom destroys another Christian, that freedom is a disaster (cf. Rom. 14:15,20).

This is a sarcastic comment as is v. 10. The Corinthian church was proud of their knowledge (8:1). Here Paul shows knowledge can be a disaster. Paul always admonishes the "stronger" brother to have patience and concern for the "weaker" brother, because of Christ's love for them both.

The terms "ruined," "perish," or "destroyed" must be interpreted in light of Rom. 14:22-23, where it means "causing another to sin," which is analogous to the use of the term here. This is not ultimate destruction, but a temporary, yet serious, set-back in spiritual growth.


8:12 "by sinning against the brethren. . .you sin against Christ" This is a powerful statement. Our love for God is shown in our love for one another. Several times in the NT, people's actions against believers are seen as actions against Christ (cf. Acts 9:4,5) and people's actions for believers are seen as actions for Christ (cf. Matt. 25:40,45).

8:13 "if" This is a first class conditional sentence. Food issues were causing some believers to violate their personal faith assumptions.

▣ "stumble" This is the Greek term that was used of trapping animals. Literally it referred to "a baited trap-stick."

▣ "I will never eat meat again" This verse has a very strong triple negative construction (cf. Rom. 14:21). Freedom in Christ should edify, not destroy. The unstated implication is that Paul will not eat meat sacrificed to an idol or in an idol's temple. This does not imply that Paul became a vegetarian.


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. It is obvious that this particular problem in not a contemporary one; however, the universal principle here is very significant. State that principle in your own words.

2. How does one relate demon activity to world religions in our day?

3. If there is only one God, how can Jesus be divine?

4. Explain the relationship between Christian freedom and Christian responsibility.

5. Define "weak" and "strong" believers.

6. Should all believers be vegetarians?


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