Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.
Verses 1-13. - The relation of lore to knowledge with respect to the question of eating idol offerings. Verse 1. - As touching things offered unto idols. This was doubtless one of the questions on which the Corinthians had asked for advice. We judge from the tone of the questions to which St. Paul here replies that the majority of the Corinthians, being liberal in their views, held that it was a matter of perfect indifference to eat idol offerings; and that, in acting upon this conviction, they contemptuously overrode the convictions of those who could not help thinking that when they did so they committed a sin. The practical decision of the question was one of immense importance. If it were unlawful under any circumstances to eat idol offerings, then the Gentile convert was condemned to a life of Levitism almost as rigorous as that of the Jew. The distinction between clean and unclean meats formed an insuperable barrier between Jews and Gentiles. Wherever they lived, Jews required a butcher of their own, who had been trained in the rules and ceremonies which enabled him to decide and to ensure that all the meat which they ate should be clean (tahor), not unclean (tame). They could touch no meat which was not certified as free from legal blemish or ceremonial pollution by the affixed leaden seal on which was engraved the word "lawful" (kashar). But Gentiles had always been accustomed to buy meat in the markets. Now, much of this meat consisted of remnants of animals slain as sacrifices, after the priests had had their share. So completely was this case, that the word "to sacrifice" had come to mean "to kill" in Hellenistic Greek. Theophrastus, in his 'Moral Sketches,' defines the close-handed man as one who, at his daughter's wedding feast, sells all the victims offered except the sacred parts; and the shameless person as one who, after offering a sacrifice, salts the victim for future use, and goes out to dine with someone else. The market was therefore stocked with meat which had been connected with idol sacrifices. The Christian could never be sure about any meat which he bought if he held it wrong to partake of these offerings. Further than this, he would - especially if he were poor - feel it a great privation to be entirely cut off from the public feasts (sussitia), which perhaps were often his only chance of eating meat at all; and also to be forbidden to take a social meal with any of his Gentile neighbours or relatives. The question was therefore a "burning" one. It involved much of the comfort and brightness of ancient social life (Thucydides, 2:38; Aristotle, 'Eth.,' 7:9, § 5; Cicero, 'Off.,' 2:16; Livy, 8:32, etc.). It will be seen that St. Paul treats it with consummate wisdom and tenderness. His liberality of thought shows itself in this - that he sides with those who took the strong, the broad, the common sense view, that sin is not a mechanical matter, and that sin is not committed where no sin is intended. He neither adopts the ascetic view nor does he taunt the inquirers with the fact that the whole weight of their personal desires and interests would lead them to decide the question in their own favour. On the other hand, he has too deep a sympathy with the weak to permit their scruples to be overruled with a violence which would wound their consciences. While he accepts the right principle of Christian freedom, he carefully guards against its abuse. It might have been supposed that, as a Jew, and one who had been trained as a "Pharisee of Pharisees," St. Paul would have sided with those who forbade any participation in idol offerings. Jewish rabbis referred to passages like Exodus 34:15; Numbers 25:2; Psalm 106:28; Daniel 1:8; Tobit 1:10, 11. Rabbi Ishmael, in 'Avoda Zara,' said that a Jew might not even go to a Gentile funeral, even if he took with him his own meat and his own servants. The law of the drink offering forbids a Jew to drink of a cask if anyone has even touched a goblet drawn from it with the presumed intention of offering little to the gods. Besides this, the Synod of Jerusalem had mentioned the eating of idol offerings as one of the four things which they forbade to Gentile converts, who were only bound by the Noachian precepts (Acts 15:29). But St. Paul judged the matter independently by his own apostolic authority. The decision of the synod had only had a local validity trod was inapplicable to such a community as that of Corinth. St. Paul had to suffer cruel misrepresentation and bitter persecution as the consequence of this breadth of view (Acts 21:21-24); but that would not be likely to make him shrink from saying the truth. This treatment of the subject closely resembles that which he subsequently adopted in Romans 14. We know that we all have knowledge. It is very probable that this is a semi-ironical quotation of the somewhat conceited remark which had occurred in the letter from Corinth. No doubt there was a sense in which it might (theoretically) be regarded as true; but it was St. Paul's duty both to disparage this kind of knowledge and to show that, after all, there were some among them who did not possess it (ver. 7). Knowledge puffeth up. The brief energetic clause, "Knowledge puffeth up; love buildeth up," shows the strong feeling with which the apostle enters on the discussion. There is a wide distance between theoretic knowledge and heavenly wisdom (James 3:13-18). "He who is full is rich; he who is puffed up is empty" (Stanley). "The first person puffed up was the devil" (Beza). Charity edifieth. There is no reason whatever for the rendering of ἀγαπὴ sometimes by "love," sometimes by "charity." The fondness for variation which led King James's translators to do so only obscures the identity of thought which prevails among all the apostles respecting the absolute primacy of love as the chief sphere and test of the Christian life. Edifieth. Helps to build us up as stones in the spiritual temple (ch. 3:9; Romans 14:19; Ephesians 4:12). "If because of meat thy brother is grieved, thou walkest no longer in love" (Romans 14:15).
And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.
Verse 2. - If any man think that he knoweth anything. Humility is the test of true knowledge, and love the inevitable factor in all Christian knowledge. The conceit of knowledge is usually the usurped self assertion of an imaginary infallibility. We only know "in part," and our knowledge, having at the best a purely relative value, is destined to vanish away (1 Corinthians 13:8). As he ought to know. True knowledge has in it an element of moral obligation, and saintliness is knowledge and supersedes the necessity for formal knowledge. Love is knowledge which has passed into heavenly wisdom. The student may say to the mystic, "All that you see I know;" but the mystic may retort," All that you know, I see."
But if any man love God, the same is known of him.
Verse 3. - If any man love God, the same is known of him. We should have expected the sentence to end "the same knows him." St. Paul purposely alters the symmetry of the phrase. He did not wish to use any terms which would foster the already overgrown conceit of knowledge which was inflating the minds of his Corinthian converts. Further than this, he felt that "God knoweth them that are his" (2 Timothy 3:19), but that, since we are finite and God is infinite, we cannot measure the arm of God by the finger of man. Hence, although it is quite true that "Every one that loveth is begotten of God and knoweth God" (1 John 4:7), yet in writing to those whose love was very imperfect, St. Paul deliberately chooses the passive form of expression as in Galatians 4:9, "Now that ye have known God or are rather known of God."
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.
Verse 4. - We know that an idol is nothing in the world. After his brief but pregnant digression on the nature of true knowledge, he returns to these questions, and probably once more quotes their own words. They had given this reason for open and public indifference with respect to meat offered to idols. With respect to idols, three views were possible to Christians: either
(1) that they were "demons" - the spirits of deified dead men; or
(2) that they were evil spirits - a favorite view among the Jews (via 10:20; Deuteronomy 32:17; 2 Chronicles 11:15; Psalm 106:37; Revelation 9:20); or
(3) that they were merely (lead images corresponding to nothing at all (Isaiah 44 etc.). That there is none other God but one. This belief is the signature of Judaism, according to their daily and oft repeated shema (Deuteronomy 6:4, etc.).
For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
Verse 5. - For though there be that are called gods. The verse is a limitation of the phrase which perhaps he had quoted from their letter. There are, indeed, demons, and there are created things, like the host of heaven and the powers of nature, which are called gods and pass for gods. Gods many, and lords many. Perhaps a passing allusion to the use of elohim, gods, for men in great positions, and to the habitual deification of Roman emperors even in their lifetime. The title "Augustus," which they all had borne, was to Jewish ears "the name of blasphemy" (Revelation 13:1), implying that they were to be objects of reverence. Indeed, the worship of the Caesars was, in that strange epoch of mingled atheism and superstition, almost the only sincere cult that was left.
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.
Verse 6. - But to us. The "but" means "nevertheless." We Christians only regard these "gods," "lords," and "idols" as nonexistent, except so far as they correspond to created and material things. The Father. Not only by creation and preservation, but much more by redemption and adoption, and as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 8:15; Galatians 3:26). Of whom are all things. All things, even including the gods of the heathen, "visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all firings were created by him and for him,... and by him all things consist" (Colossians 1:16, 17). And we in him; rather, into or for him. He is the End and Goal as well as the Author of our existence. One Lord. The only real "Lord," though the Roman emperors often took the title, and one of them - Domitian - insisted on the use of the expression, "Dominus Deusque noster" ("Our Lord and God"), as applied to himself (Suetonius. 'Domit.,' 13). By whom are all things. "By whom," as the Agent of creation and redemption (John 1:3, 10; Hebrews 1:2). And we by him. "By him,"as the Mediator and the Giver of life (Romans 11:36, "Of him, and to him, and through him are all things").
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.
Verse 7. - There is not in every man that knowledge. A correction of the somewhat haughty assertion of the Corinthians in ver. 1. With conscience of the idol; literally, by their consciousness of the idol. In eating meat offered to any god whom they had been accustomed to worship, "being used to the idol," as the Revised Version renders it (reading "by familiarity with," συνηθείᾳ for συνειδήσει) cannot dismiss from their minds the palatal sense that, in eating the idol sacrifice, they are participating in the idol worship. Their conscience being weak is defiled. Being Gentiles who till recently had been idolaters, the apparent participation in their old idolatry wore to them the semblance of apostacy. The thing which they were eating was, in its own essence, indifferent or clean, but since they could not help esteeming it unclean, they defied a conscientious doubt, and so their conduct, not being of faith, became sinful (Romans 14:14, 23). St Paul admits that this was the sign of a conscience intellectually weak; but the weakness was the result of past habit and imperfect enlightenment, and it was entitled to forbearance and respect.
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.
Verse 8. - But meat commendeth us not to God; rather, will not recommend us. God would think none the better of them for eating idol sacrifices, even though they asserted thereby a freedom which was the reward of clear insight. This verse will serve to show why "fasting" is nowhere rigidly enjoined on Christians. If fasting is a help to our spiritual life, then we should practise it, but with the distinct apprehension of the truth that God will think none the better of us merely because we eat less, but only if the fasting be a successful means of making us more pure and more loving. If the Bible had been in the hands of the people during the Middle Ages, this verse would have rendered impossible the idle superstition that to eat meat in Lent was one of the deadliest sins, or that there was any merit whatever in the Lenten fast except as a means of self improvement and self mastery. This verse says expressly, "We lose nothing by not eating; we gain nothing by eating."
But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
Verse 9. - Lest this liberty of yours become a stumbling block; rather, this power or right of yours. To lead any one to do that which he thinks to be wrong is to place a stone of stumbling in his way, even if we do not think the act to be wrong. For we make men worse if by our example we teach them to act in contradiction of their conscience. "Let your motto be forbearance, not privilege, and your watchword charity, not knowledge. Never flaunt your knowledge, seldom use your privilege" (Evans).
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;
Verse 10. - Sit at meat in the [an] idol's temple. To recline at a banquet in the temple of Poseidon or Aphrodite, especially in such a place as Corinth, was certainly an extravagant assertion of their right to Christian liberty. It was indeed a "bowing in the house of Rimmon" which could hardly fail to be misunderstood. The very word "idoleum" should have warned them. It was a word not used by Gentiles, and invented by believers in the one God, to avoid the use of "temple" (ναὸς) in connection with idols. The Greeks spoke of the "Athenaeum," or "Apolloneum," or "Posideum;" but Jews only of an "idoleum" - a word which (like other Jewish designations of heathen forms of worship) involved a bitter taunt. For the very word eidolon meant a shadowy, fleeting, unreal image. Perhaps the Corinthian Christians might excuse their boldness by pleading that all the most important feasts and social gatherings of the ancients were held in temples (comp. 1 Macc. 1:47 1 Macc. 10:83). Be emboldened; rather, be edified. The expression is a very bold paronomasia. This "edification of ruin" would be all the more likely to ensue because self interest would plead powerfully in the same direction. A little compromise and complicity, a little suppression of opinion and avoidance of antagonism to things evil, a little immoral acquiescence, would have gone very far in those days to save Christians from incessant persecution. Yet no Christian could be "edified" into a more dangerous course than that of defying and defiling his own tender conscience.
And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
Verse 11. - Shall the weak brother perish. The fact that he was "weak" constituted a fresh appeal to pity. It made him more emphatically one of "Christ's little ones," and Christ had pronounced a heavy malediction on all who caused such to offend. But if there is this "ruinous edification" upon the trembling and sandy foundation of a weak conscience, what could possibly follow but a gradual destruction? The tense is the present (the praesens futurascens), "and he who is weak, in thy knowledge, is perishing" - "the brother for whose sake Christ died." The order of the original often gives a force to the words, which it is difficult to reproduce, as here. The word "is perishing" becomes very emphatic by being placed first in the sentence. "Destroy not him with thy meat for whom Christ died" (Romans 14:16). Perish; terrificum verbum. Clarius. He could use no word which would more effectually point his warning.
But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.
Verse 12. - And wound their weak conscience; rather, and in smiting their conseience which is weak. "What," asks St. Chrysostom, "can be more ruthless than a man who strikes one who is sick?" Was it not a cowardly exercise of liberty to strike the conscience of the defenceless? It is another form of "defiling" (ver. 7) the conscience, but brings out the cruelty of such conduct. Ye sin against Christ. Because Christ lives and suffers in the persons of the least of his little ones (Matthew 25:40, 45; Romans 12:5, etc.).
Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.
Verse 13. - Make my brother to offend. "Make to offend" is, in the original, the verb "scandalize." The word for "meat" means any kind of food. Flesh. The particular subject of discussion here. "I will," says St, Paul, "abstain from flesh altogether rather than by eating it lead a weaker brother into sin." While the world standeth. The same expression is elsewhere rendered "forever." Literally it means to the aeon. St. Paul is often led into these impetuous expressions of the depth of his feelings. The reader will find the whole question argued in s similar spirit in Romans 14:19-22. Lest; namely, in the case supposed. In reality there was no need for taking so severe a pledge of abstinence.