The question of the Corinthians concerning meats offered to idols, and the apostle's preface to his instructions on that head, 1 Corinthians 8:1-3. The nature of idolatry, 1 Corinthians 8:4, 1 Corinthians 8:5. Of genuine worship, 1 Corinthians 8:6. Some ate of the animals that had been offered to idols knowingly, and so defiled their conscience, 1 Corinthians 8:7. Neither eating nor abstinence in themselves recommend us to God, 1 Corinthians 8:8. But no man should use his Christian liberty so as to put a stumbling block before a brother, 1 Corinthians 8:9, 1 Corinthians 8:10. If he act otherwise, he may be the means of a brother's destruction, 1 Corinthians 8:11. Those who act so as to wound the tender conscience of a brother, sin against Christ, 1 Corinthians 8:12. The apostle's resolution on this head, 1 Corinthians 8:13.
Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.As touching things offered unto idols - This was another subject on which the Corinthians had asked the apostle's advice, and we shall understand the whole of this chapter the better when we consider one fact, viz. That there had long subsisted a controversy between the Karaites and the Traditionists, how far it was lawful to derive any benefit or advantage from things used by the Gentiles. The Karaites were a sect of the Jews who scrupulously held to the letter of the sacred writings, taking this alone for their directory. The Traditionists were those who followed the voice of the elders, interpreting the Divine testimonies by their decisions. From a work of the Karaites, entitled Addereth Eliyahu, Triglandus has extracted the following decisions, which will throw light upon this subject. "It is unlawful to receive any benefit from any kind of heathen worship, or from any thing that has been offered to an idol." - "It is unlawful to buy or sell an idol, and if, by accident, any such thing shall come into thy power, thou shalt derive no emolument from it." - "The animals that are destined and prepared for the worship of idols are universally prohibited; and particularly those which bear the mark of the idol. This should be maintained against the opinion of the Traditionists, who think they may lawfully use these kinds of animals, provided they be not marked with the sign of the idol." Thus far the Karaites; and here we see one strong point of difference between these two sects. The Karaites totally objected to every thing used in idolatrous services: the Traditionists, as the Talmud shows, did generally the same; but it appears that they scrupled not to use any animal employed in idolatrous worship, provided they did not see the sign of the idol on it. Now the sign of the idol must be that placed on the animal previously to its being sacrificed, such as gilded horns and hoofs, consecrated fillets, garlands, etc. And as, after it had been sacrificed, and its flesh exposed for sale in the shambles, it could bear none of these signs, we may take it for granted that the Jews might think it lawful to buy and eat this flesh: this the Karaite would most solemnly scruple. It may be just necessary to state here, that it was customary, after the blood and life of an animal had been offered in sacrifice to an idol, to sell the flesh in the market indiscriminately with that of other animals which had not been sacrificed, but merely killed for common use. Even the less scrupulous Jews, knowing that any particular flesh had been thus offered, would abhor the use of it; and as those who lived among the Gentiles, as the Jews at Corinth, must know that this was a common case, hence they would be generally scrupulous; and those of them that were converted to Christianity would have their scruples increased, and be as rigid on this point as the Karaites themselves. On the other hand, those of the Gentiles who had received the faith of Christ, knowing that an idol was nothing in the world, nor was even a representation of any thing, (for the beings represented by idol images were purely imaginary), made no scruple to buy and eat the flesh as they used to do, though not with the same intention; for when, in their heathen state, they ate the flesh offered to idols, they ate it as a feast with the idol, and were thus supposed to have communion with the idol; which was the grossest idolatry.
From these observations it will at once appear that much misunderstanding and offense must have existed in the Corinthian Church; the converted Jews abominating every thing that they knew had been used in the heathen worship, while the converted Gentiles, for the reasons above assigned, would feel no scruple on the account.
We know that we all have knowledge - I am inclined to think that these are not St. Paul's words, but a quotation from the letter of the Corinthians to him, and a proof of what the apostle says below, knowledge puffeth up; but however the words may be understood as to their origin, they contain a general truth, as they relate to Christians of those times, and may be thus paraphrased; "All we who are converted to God by Christ have sufficient knowledge concerning idols and idol worship; and we know also the liberty which we have through the Gospel, not being bound by Jewish laws, rites, ceremonies, etc.; but many carry their knowledge in this liberty too far, and do what is neither seemly nor convenient, and thus give offense to others."
Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth - This knowledge is very nearly allied to pride; it puffeth up the mind with vain conceit, makes those who have it bold and rash, and renders them careless of the consciences of others. And this knowledge, boasted of by the Corinthians, led them to contemn others; for so the word φυσιοι is understood by some eminent critics.
And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.He knoweth nothing yet, etc. - The person who acts in this rash, unfeeling way, from the general knowledge which he has of the vanity of idolatry and the liberty which the Gospel affords from Jewish rites, with all his knowledge does not know this, that though the first and greatest commandment says, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, etc., yet the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. He, then, that can torment his neighbour's weak or tender conscience with his food or his conduct, does not love him as himself, and therefore knows nothing as he ought to know.
But if any man love God, the same is known of him.But if any man love God - In that way which the commandment requires, which will necessarily beget love to his neighbor, the same is known of him - is approved of God, and acknowledged as his genuine follower.
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.Things that are offered in sacrifice - See on the first verse, (1 Corinthians 8:1 (note)).
An idol is nothing in the world - Dr. Lightfoot translates this, We know that there is no idol in the world; which he explains thus: Ειδωλον, idol, is ὁμοιωμα, εικων, σημειον, χαρακτηριον, σκιοειδες, a likeness, an image, a sign, a character, a shadow: now ουδεν ειδωλον signifies there is no idol, no representation of God, in the world. Images there are of stone, wood and metal; but none of these is any representation of the infinite Spirit. But I prefer the meaning given in the note on 1 Corinthians 8:1; (1 Corinthians 8:1 (note)) as the expression, an idol is nothing in the world, was common in the Old Testament, and among the Jews; and was understood by them in this way: they are not אלהים Elohim, the true God; but they are אלילים, nothings, and הבלים habalim, Vanity.
For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)There be that are called gods - There are many images that are supposed to be representations of divinities: but these divinities are nothing, the figments of mere fancy; and these images have no corresponding realities.
Whether in heaven or in earth - As the sun, moon, planets, stars, the ocean, rivers, trees, etc. And thus there are, nominally, gods many, and lords many.
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.But to us there is but one God, the Father - Who produced all things, himself uncreated and unoriginated. And we in him, και ἡμεις εις αυτον, and we For him; all intelligent beings having been created for the purpose of manifesting his glory, by receiving and reflecting his wisdom, goodness, and truth.
And one Lord Jesus - Only one visible Governor of the world and the Church, by whom are all things: who was the Creator, as he is the Upholder of the universe. And we by him, being brought to the knowledge of the true God, by the revelation of Jesus Christ; for it is the only begotten Son alone that can reveal the Father. The gods of whom the apostle speaks were their divinities, or objects of religious worship; the lords were the rulers of the world, such emperors, who were considered next to gods, and some of them were deified. In opposition to those gods he places God the Father, the fountain of plenitude and being; and in opposition to the lords he places Jesus Christ, who made and who governs all things. We, as creatures, live in reference, εις αυτον, to him, God the Father, who is the fountain of our being: and, as Christians, we live δι' αυτου, by or through him, Jesus Christ; by whom we are bought, enlightened, pardoned, and saved.
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.There is not in every man that knowledge - This is spoken in reference to what is said, 1 Corinthians 8:4 : We know that an idol is nothing in the world; for some with a conscience of the idol, viz. that it is something, eat it - the flesh that was offered to the idol, as a thing thus offered, considering the feast as a sacred banquet, by which they have fellowship with the idol. And their conscience being weak - not properly instructed in Divine things, is defiled - he performs what he does as an act of religious worship, and thus his conscience contracts guilt through this idolatry.
As in the commencement of Christianity, among the Jews that were converted, there were many found who incorporated the rites of the law with the principles of the Gospel; so, doubtless, among the Gentiles, there were several who did not at once throw aside all their idolatry or idolatrous notions, but preserved some of its more spiritual and imposing parts, and might think it necessary to mingle idolatrous feasts with the rites of Christianity; as the sacrament of the Lord's supper was certainly considered as a feast upon a sacrifice, as I have proved in my Discourse on the Nature and Design of the Eucharist. As the minds of many of these young Gentile converts could not, as yet, have been deeply endued with spiritual knowledge, they might incorporate these feasts, and confound their nature and properties.
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.Meat commendeth us not to God - No such feasts as these can be a recommendation of our souls or persons to the Supreme Being. As to the thing, considered in itself, the eating gives us no spiritual advantage; and the eating not is no spiritual loss.
But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.But take heed - Lest by frequenting such feasts and eating things offered to idols, under the conviction that an idol is nothing, and that you may eat those things innocently, this liberty of yours should become a means of grievously offending a weak brother who has not your knowledge, or inducing one who respects you for your superior knowledge to partake of these things with the conscience, the persuasion and belief, that an idol is something, and to conclude, that as you partake of such things, so he may also, and with safety. He is not possessed of your superior information on this point, and he eats to the idol what you take as a common meal.
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;If any man see thee which hast knowledge - Of the true God, and who art reputed for thy skill in Divine things.
Sit at meat in the idol's temple - Is it not strange that any professing the knowledge of the true God should even enter one of those temples? And is it not more surprising that any Christian should be found to feast there? But by all this we may see that the boasted knowledge of the Corinthians had very little depth in things purely spiritual.
There are many curious thin-spun theories in the rabbinical writings concerning entering idol temples, and eating there, and even worshipping there, providing the mind be towards the true God. Dr. Lightfoot produces several quotations to prove this. Perhaps the man of knowledge mentioned by the apostle was one of those who, possessing a convenient conscience, could accommodate himself to all circumstances; be a heathen without and a Christian within, and vice versa, as circumstances might require.
Be emboldened to eat - Οικοδομηθησεται, Be built up - be confirmed and established in that opinion which before he doubtingly held, that on seeing You eat he may be led to think there is no harm in feasting in an idol temple, nor in eating things offered to idols.
And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?Shall the weak brother perish - Being first taught by thy conduct that there was no harm in thus eating, he grieves the Spirit of God; becomes again darkened and hardened; and, sliding back into idolatry, dies in it, and so finally perishes.
For whom Christ died? - So we learn that a man may perish for whom Christ died: this admits of no quibble. If a man for whom Christ died, apostatizing from Christianity, (for he is called a brother though weak), return again to and die in idolatry, cannot go to heaven; then a man for whom Christ died may perish everlastingly. And if it were possible for a believer, whether strong or weak, to retrace his steps back to idolatry and die in it, surely it is possible for a man, who had escaped the pollutions that are in the world, to return to it, live and die in its spirit, and perish everlastingly also. Let him that readeth understand.
But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.But when ye sin so against the brethren - Against Christians, who are called by the Gospel to abhor and detest all such abominations.
Ye sin against Christ - By sending to perdition, through your bad example, a soul for whom he shed his blood; and so far defeating the gracious intentions of his sacrificial death. This is a farther intimation, that a person for whom Christ died may perish; and this is the drift of the apostle's argument.
Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.Wherefore, etc. - Rather than give any occasion to a Christian to sin against and so to harden his conscience that he should return to idolatry and perish, I would not only abstain from all meats offered to idols, but I would eat no flesh, should I exist through the whole course of time, but live on the herbs of the field, rather than cause my brother to stumble, and thus fall into idolatry and final ruin.
The following words of Origen contain a very solemn lesson and warning: "If we did more diligently attend to these things, we should avoid sinning against our brethren and wounding their weak conscience, that we might not sin against Christ; our brethren that are among us, for whom Christ died, often perishing, not only by our knowledge, but by many other ways, and things, in which things we, sinning against Christ, shall suffer punishment; the souls of them that perish by us being required of and avenged upon us." See Whitby on this place.
1. The greater our reputation for knowledge and sanctity, the greater mischief we shall do by our influence and example if we turn aside from the holy commandment delivered unto us. Every man should walk so as either to light or lead his brother to heaven.
2. It is the duty of every Christian to watch against apostasy in his own case, and to prevent it as much as possible in that of others. That a person for whom Christ died may finally perish is strongly argued, says Dr. Whitby, from this place, and Romans 14:15; for here the apostle dissuades the Corinthians from scandalizing their weak brethren, by an argument taken from the irreparable mischiefs they may do them, the eternal ruin they may bring upon them by this scandal; whereas if it be, as some assert, that all things, even the sins of the elect, shall work together for their good, and that they shall never perish; if the apostle knew and taught this doctrine to them, why does he endeavor to affright them from this scandal, by telling them that it might have that effect which he had before told them was impossible? If you interpret his words thus: So shall he perish, for whom in charity ye ought to judge Christ died; it is certain, from this doctrine, that they must be assured that this judgment of charity must be false, or that their brother could not perish. In the first place, they could not be obliged to act by it, and in the second, they could not rationally be moved by it to abstain from giving scandal on that impossible supposition.
If you interpret the apostle thus: So shalt thou do that which, in its nature, tends to make thy brother perish; and might have that effect, had not God determined to preserve all from perishing, for whom Christ died; since this determination renders it sure to me, who know it, that they cannot actually perish, it must assure me that there can be no cause of abstinency from this scandal, lest they should perish by it.
Moreover, by thus offending, saith the apostle, ye sin against Christ; viz. by sinning against him whom he has purchased by his blood; and destroying them for whose salvation he has suffered. If this intent of Christ's death be denied, how can we show in what Christ has demonstrated his great love to them that perish? Is it possible that they can sin against redeeming love? and how, by thus offending them who neither do nor can belong to him as members of his mystical body, are we injurious to Christ? See Whitby on this place.
3. It is natural for man to wish and affect to be wise; and when this desire is cultivated in reference to lawful objects, it will be an indescribable good; but when, like Eve, we see, in a prohibition, something to be desired to make one wise, we are then, like her, on the verge of our fall. Though extensive knowledge is not given to all, yet it is given for all; and is the public property of the Church. He who does not use it for general edification robs the public of its right. For the misuse and misapplication of this talent we shall give account to God, as well as of other gifts and graces.
4. Persons of an over tender and scrupulous conscience may be very troublesome in a Christian society; but as this excessive scrupulosity comes from want of more light, more experience, or more judgment, we should bear with them. Though such should often run into ridiculous extremes, yet we must take care that we do not attempt to cure them either with ridicule or wrath. Extremes generally beget extremes; and such persons require the most judicious treatment, else they will soon be stumbled and turned out of the way. We should be very careful lest in using what is called Christian liberty we occasion their fall; and for our own sake we must take heed that we do not denominate sinful indulgences, Christian liberties.
5. Though we are bound to take heed that we put not a stumbling block in the way of a weak brother, yet if such a brother be stumbled at any part of our conduct which is not blamable in itself, but of which he may have taken a wrong view, we are not answerable for the consequences. We are called to walk by the testimony of God; not according to the measure of any man's conscience, how sincere soever he may be.
6. Many persons cover a spirit of envy and uncharitableness with the name of godly zeal and tender concern for the salvation of others; they find fault with all; their spirit is a spirit of universal censoriousness; none can please them; and every one suffers by them. These destroy more souls by tithing mint and cummin, than others do by neglecting the weightier matters of the law. Such persons have what is termed, and very properly too, sour godliness. Both are extremes, and he who would avoid perdition must avoid them.