Scriptures

1 Corinthians 8

Introduction

Eating Of Meats Sacrificed To Idols

“Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God. So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” 1 Corinthians 8:1-4

The letter that the Corinthian brethren composed, 1 Corinthians 7:1 not only had questions about marriage but about “things sacrificed to idols.”

Much of the confusion over what to eat and what not to eat stemmed from the marring of Old Testament and New Testament teaching. Read Mark 7:14-23.

A principle that continues in the New Testament is the regulations regarding the eating of blood. Moses had commanded that blood not be eaten, Leviticus 17:10-11 and so the Law of Christ demands the same, Acts 15:20 / Acts 15:29.

If one were to read Revelation on eating meats sacrificed to idols the conclusion would be that it is sinful to do Revelation 2:14 / Revelation 2:20. Again, at the Jerusalem conference, the apostles and elders of Jerusalem wrote, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.” Acts 15:28+29

Pagan priests sacrificed animals to their perspective deities just as the Jews sacrificed to God. The meats from the sacrifices were not wasted but oftentimes sold in the markets. The question this chapter deals with is this, is it sinful for a Christian to eat meats sacrificed to idols? Secondly, would it be sinful to enter an idol’s temple and eat the meats within?

While looking at the teaching of Acts 15 and Revelation 2 one would conclude that anyone eating meats sacrificed to idols would be in sin. Yet Paul states in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 that eating meats sacrificed to idols is not a sin so long as one does not violate their conscience. Read Romans 14:15.

The study will indicate that it is not man’s conscience that must be met but rather God’s will. God’s will is that idols are nothing and therefore eating meats sacrificed to a nothing god means nothing (unless you believe that it does). God’s law reigns supreme, however, man’s conscience also is to be considered.

The rule appears to be that one’s conscience on a given subject equates to law so long as that conscience act does not cause him to violate the standard of God’s will. Matters of incidents, personal judgment, and expediency are ok so long as they do not violate God’s laws.

1. About things sacrificed, concerning food offered to idols.

The Corinthians had raised this question, in chapter 7:1. It was one of the ‘matters about which you wrote’ Paul seems to be quoting statements made in their letter.

The knowledge ‘gnosis’ was in the realm of knowing that there is really only one true God and that an idol was really non-existent, 1 Corinthians 8:4.

Every true Christian believes in one true God; however, some have a greater understanding of the one true God than others. Such abilities could lead the intelligent informed brother to be arrogant and lack love.

The arrogant with knowledge looked down upon the lesser informed brother rather than lovingly ‘edifying’ the brother. The word ‘edify’, ‘oikodomeo’ is to ‘build a house, metaphorically, to build up.’ One who does not love ‘agape’ is one who tears down rather than building up and strengthening others.

An important thing to note here is that Paul uses the phrase, ‘concerning things sacrificed to idols’ two times, 1 Corinthians 8:1a and 8:4a. Sandwiched between these two statements are instructions regarding a man not knowing what he thinks he knows.

The brother who believes he has wisdom and knowledge regarding eating things sacrificed to idols really ‘knows not yet as he ought to know.’ The point is that some people think they know things yet they really don’t.

When we compare the statements before us with 1 Corinthians 8:7 it is apparent that though all men thought they had knowledge they really didn’t.

Today, most brethren would consider themselves the ‘strong brother’ of 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14, however, many of these brothers are telling us that it is sinful to eat at restaurants and buy products from companies that support sinful things.

Their convictions have gotten the better of them and though they believe themselves to be spiritually strong they are spiritually weak because they let their conscience deem what is right rather than God’s standard.

If God knows me and I know God I am obviously in spiritual fellowship with the Father. Spiritual matters are important to me, to be known of God is to be in fellowship with God, 1 John 1:3-7. To be known of God is to follow the commandments of God, 1 John 5:3.

To be known of God is to have God in us, dwelling in us in that we are one with God in purpose through His commandments, John 17:21-23 / 1 John 4:4. To be known of God is to be able to differentiate, by use of the word of God, the spirit of error and the spirit of truth, 1 John 4:6.

Apparently, Paul speaks of an attitude in this verse. The one with true knowledge and wisdom is the one who will understand truths and apply these truths with love toward self and others. Questions will be solved in this man’s mind by saying, ‘what do the Scriptures say.’

Here is the completion of the ‘eating meets sacrificed to idols’ sandwich. Before Paul discusses the right or wrong of the question he prefaces his argument with three facts.

a. Not all brethren know what they ought to know even though they think they know.

b. Love of each other and of God should govern all my decisions.

c. I should be spiritually minded about all questions before me.

Now, Paul is ready to answer the question of whether or not eating meats sacrificed to idols in the temple of idols is wrong. Among the Christians, there is a common knowledge that an idol is not really anything and that God reigns supreme as the one true God.

The prophet Isaiah pointedly stated that an idol is an object made by the hands of man, carried by the hands of man, and worshipped by the hands of man. They know nothing, see nothing, understand nothing, and say nothing because they are nothing but an image carved out of mindless stone, clay or metal, Isaiah 44-46.

Regarding God, Isaiah records, “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me” Isaiah 46:9

Paul’s point is that every Christian believes the fact that there is really only one true God. This is the foundation of his argument!

When referring to such matters the Pagan Corinthians would speak of ‘hierothuton’ which means ‘Sacrifices for sacred purposes’. 1 Corinthians 8:1-4. The Christians would have used another term altogether to describe this ‘eidoloth uton’, ‘Sacrifices to idols’.

1. The situation in the city of Corinth.

A pagan city, and therefore impossible to live without becoming aware of the extent to which paganism affected and influenced every aspect of life; not only religious life but social and economic life as well.

a. When a man took up a trade or a profession or went to a social function, or celebrated a family occasion, paganism entered, in one way or another.

b. Social meals were a demonstration of paganism. The Greeks placed far more emphasis on social life than we do today. Far more often than most of us have appreciated, friends and neighbours met together for a communal meal, and it was a common everyday occurrence for someone to receive an invitation to such a meal. (Invitation cards to a meal have been found in the Temple)

But, before or after such a meal, there was certain to be a pagan ritual in which part of the meal would be offered symbolically to one or other of the pagan gods when a portion of the food and drink would be placed on the family altar, and the guests would be expected to take part in this ceremony.

The reason for it lay in the belief, held by the ancient Greeks, that the world is full of evil spirits, which are always lurking and waiting to enter into a man in order to take possession of him.

They believed that one of the commonest ways in which evil spirits gained entry into them was through the food they ate. The spirits, they said settled on the food, so that when one ate it, they entered the body.

But, there was a safeguard which they could adopt, and that was for them to dedicate the food to one or other of the gods and that would keep out the bad, spirits. This is why, before an animal was slaughtered in ancient Greece, it was first dedicated to the gods, and that was supposed to keep it untainted.

Sacrifices were made to the idols in the pagan temple. As in other Greek cities, priests of the pagan religions received a large share of sacrifice for themselves and, because they were unable to use all of it, they passed it on to dealers who sold it in the shambles, in the market.

Even the more devout or superstitious of the Pagans would not under any circumstances buy the meat, so with so little demand for it was sold cheaply.

So a Christian might either buy it for himself because it did not worry him, or he might eat it in the home of a friend, knowing where it had come from, or he might even be offered it in a meal without being aware of where it came from.

How does Paul deal with the problem? For some, all this constituted no problem at all. These mature Christians, like the prophets of the Old Testament, knew that an idol was just so much carved wood, chiselled stone, cast metal. The fact that the heathen called the work of their own hands, their gods didn’t make them gods.

They were still pieces of wood or stone or lumps of metal. They had no power at all. Not only did the Idols lack the power of God, but they also had less power than the men who created them, because they could ‘neither see nor speak or do anything’ as the prophets pointed out.

Therefore although the pagan worshippers offered a piece of meat as a supposed sacrifice to one of these carved trees, or images, it remained just ordinary meat, And if these Christians were offered a nice roast, they could eat it without any problem. In other words without any qualms of conscience.

“For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live”. 1 Corinthians 8:5-6

Note that Paul included ‘all’ Christians in 1 Corinthians 8:1 / 1 Corinthians 8:4 / 1 Corinthians 8:6. All Christians understand this and by faith believe it. Though the pagans had a deity for many earthly things such as the moon, stars, sun, wind, sea etc. there is in all reality only one true God.

This one true God is the creator of all things, Psalms 33:6-9 / Psalm 148:4-5 / Isaiah 45:18. God created all things with or by Jesus Christ. Jesus was the agency in which creation occurred, John 1:1-3 / Colossians 1:16 / Hebrews 1:2.

Finally, Paul states that ‘we’ (Christians) are “unto him and through him.” Christians are ‘unto’ Christ in that we are servants of the Lord. Christians are ‘through’ Christ in that we are redeemed by Christ.

“But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.” 1 Corinthians 8:7-8

Paul has said that ‘we all have knowledge’, 1 Corinthians 8:1 yet now says, ‘not everyone possesses this knowledge.’ The first appearance seems to be a contradiction, however, one must understand the context of this series of verses.

Remember, the Corinthians are asking, ‘is it lawful for me to eat meats sacrificed to idols?’ Such a question reveals the fact that not all really had a true knowledge of the one true God.

Some Christians were ‘used until now to the idol’, ‘sunetheia eos apti’ is ‘habitual intercourse, acquaintance, society, intimacy. Habit, custom’. Many Christians had lived in a society where multitudes of deities were worshipped and accepted as real (see Acts 17:16).

By habit and society, they too had come to know other deities. Their conversion to Christianity was a complete 180-degree turn from where they were (i.e., not sure or even believing in idols).

These brethren’s newfound zeal obviously caused their conscience to be bothered if told they were permitted to continue to eat the meats sacrificed to these idols in their temples. They were convicted of the wrong and wanted no part of this now. They would have their ‘weak conscience defiled’ if they ate meats sacrificed to idols.

The ‘conscience’, ‘suneidesis’ is ‘a conscious that cannot come to a decision or a conscience of guilt’. The conscience is ‘with knowledge’, ‘awareness’. The conscious of a man determines the right or wrongness of an activity, 2 Corinthians 4:2.

‘Weak’, ‘asthenes’ is ‘without strength, weak, feeble, weakly, too weak to bear labour’. ‘Defiled’, ‘moluno’ is ‘to stain’. To understand what it means to be defiled we must turn to the Old Testament God’s people were defiled when conducting themselves in sin, Ezekiel 36:17 / Ezekiel 37:23 / Hosea 5:3.

Here were some whose awareness of the reality of the one true God was feeble and thereby corrupted by entering an idol temple to eat meats sacrificed to that idol. Those Christians who were socially and habitually attached to pagan deities defiled, and sinned, against their knowledge of what was right and wrong to do.

Again, the question is, can we eat meats sacrificed to idols in the temple of idols? Apparently, this question was a source of contention among the brethren. Some believed it to be sin others did not. Paul thereby gives divine instruction regarding the matter. All who are spiritually minded will have the same approach to any question. What is God’s will?

To ‘commend’, ‘paristemi’ is ‘to set before the mind, present, offer, bring home to the mind; to make good, prove, shew’. Being presented to God in a commendable state is not contingent upon whether I eat certain foods or not.

Paul said that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. Romans 14:17. Eating was a liberty as was circumcision, 1 Corinthians 7:19.

The answer to the question is thereby simple. Yes, it is ok to eat meats sacrificed to idols in the temple of idols because the idol doesn’t really exist. The food is the same food before it was sacrificed as after it was sacrificed. The food did not change and therefore it doesn’t matter if you eat it or don’t eat it.

More than this, some of the Christians even joined in the meals held in the courtyards of the heathen Temples, perhaps a sort of defiant, brave gesture, showing how little they thought of the idols, 1 Corinthians 8:10

Perhaps even argue that in this way they would encourage other brethren, ‘embolden them’ is the expression used, give them the courage to follow their example.

There were, however, other members of the church in Corinth who did not feel like this about the matter and it is for the sake of these brethren, that Paul is making his argument, 1 Corinthians 8:7. He says, ‘not everyone feels this way’.

In other words, not everyone has reached the stage of maturity when he is able to treat paganism with disdain! He says, ‘not everyone has this knowledge’.

There were members of the church converted from heathenism, who had been brought up from childhood to believe in idols, and they were not able to get rid of the lingering feeling that an idol was ‘something’.

Call them ‘brethren’ because, at heart, that is what they are, but, in 1 Corinthians 8:9, Paul describes them as ‘the weak’. In 1 Corinthians 8:10, he speaks of ‘the man who is ‘weak’. Again in 1 Corinthians 8:11, he that is weak. In 1 Corinthians 8:7 / 1 Corinthians 8:12 says that these brethren have ‘weak consciences’.

So, these were undoubtedly brethren who had not matured to this state of understanding or knowledge. Notice how often he speaks of knowing and having knowledge.

‘We know that we have all knowledge.’ 1 Corinthians 8:1

‘Knowledge puffs up,’ is this true?

‘If any man thinks that he KNOWS anything he does not yet KNOW as we KNOW.’ 1 Corinthians 8:2

 ‘We KNOW that no idol is anything.’ 1 Corinthians 8:4

And so, if these brethren were to eat such meat, it would really trouble them and there was nothing they could do about it they couldn’t help it because their untaught, consciences told them it was wrong.

This reminds us that conscience alone is not a safe guide. Conscience must be instructed and taught. The very word ‘conscience’, ‘con science’ means ‘with knowledge’.

It is worth remembering that Paul once claimed ‘I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day’, and there is no doubt that, even when he was persecuting the church, he had a clear conscience! He thought he was doing the will of God. But he was mistaken. He later added, ‘I acted ignorantly and in unbelief’.

There was another potential problem. If these ‘weaker brethren’ saw other brethren eating such meat or if they even heard that others were doing it, that could become a serious stumbling block in their way.

There is also another argument, which Paul develops more fully in 1 Corinthians 10 which we might touch on very briefly in this study. Besides these former pagans who were offended when the more enlightened brethren ate meat that they knew had been offered to idols, there were others in the church at Corinth who were affected by the conduct of the ‘mature’ Christians.

These were ex-followers of Judaism Jews who had been brought up according to the Mosaic Law, and we know how the devout Jew thought and felt about idolatry!

These Jewish Christians, who had an intense hatred for idolatry, simply could not regard an idol or anything that reminded them of idolatry, as nothing. The great, recurring, sin for which God had repeatedly punished His ancient people, as the Old Testament plainly reveals, was the sin of either practising or tolerating the worship and service of idols.

This was the sin for which they were sent into captivity in Assyria and Babylon, and the reason why God allowed the destruction of their beloved Jerusalem.

Jewish Christians would point to the fact that God had uttered the sternest of denunciations of idolatry, throughout their people’s history, and then they would ask. Would God concern Himself over something that was ‘nothing’?

The decision of the meeting of Apostles and Elders at Jerusalem was that Gentile Christians should be asked to abstain from conduct associated with idols and idol-worship because it offended Jewish Christians, Acts 15:20-29.

Notice that, in the chapter we are looking at, Paul does not deal with the question concerning whether an idol is truly nothing or something but he does raise it again in 1 Corinthians 10, where he presents the argument that, although the idol itself may be just wood or stone or metal that has no spiritual power, evil spirits and demons certainly exist, and it is the powers of evil which lead men into the worship of idols.

However, for the moment, the argument that Paul makes is this, even if a thing is harmless to you if it harms your brother, something more important than knowledge should determine how you behave. Love should take over so that you are led to refrain from doing anything that will affect the spiritual life of your brother and cause him to stumble.

Paul goes even further in this argument. He goes so far as to say that it is possible, by insisting on your liberty as a Christian, that you become guilty of sinning against your brother.

1 Corinthians 8:11-12 Paul says, in effect, ‘you persist in what you are doing because you claim to possess mature, superior, knowledge but your conduct shocks this weaker brother so that he falls, he loses his faith. He perishes, the brother for whom Christ died! That is terrible! Christ died to save him, but your attitude and your behaviour causes him to be lost!’

You are ‘sinning against the brethren’ and that is serious enough! But there is something even more appalling. ‘In sinning against the brethren you are sinning against Christ.’ Clearly, as Christians, although, in Christ, we have ‘freedom’ and ‘rights’, we have no right to do anything that will cause harm to another person.

And even though we are ‘mature’ and ‘strong in the Faith’ and know that certain things are harmless, innocent and safe our conduct, the way we behave must not be controlled merely by ‘knowledge’ but by ‘love’, the ‘agape’ which is the greatest kind of love, because it ‘seeks the highest good’ of others.

This is an important point, knowledge is not everything. To know what is right is not enough. There will be times when love for the brethren will cause us to say, ‘I know that what I want to do is permissible, because it does not violate any Christian Truth, but for my brother’s, sake I will forego it because it is not worth the risk of losing him’.

A proper View Toward Liberties

“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.” 1 Corinthians 8:9-13

Clearly, the context states that eating meats sacrificed to idols is really not a sinful event for the one who understands that there is truly only one deity, God. How then can we reconcile this with what Paul had been a part of in Acts 15 and John commands in Revelation 2?

The thought is truly clear. Eating meats sacrificed to idols was indeed sinful for the one who considered, by social habit, the reality of the idol, 1 Corinthians 10:14-33. Therefore if and when he partakes of food that had been sacrificed to idols, it defiles his conscience and to him, it is sinful, Romans 14:23.

A judgment is then to be made regarding one’s consciousness. A conscious trained and unencumbered by doubts regarding other deities were at liberty to eat meat sacrificed to idols. Not so with the weak conscious.

Though the matter really was an issue of liberty, Paul warns the informed brother that he, through a lack of love, can be a ‘stumbling block’ to others by exercising his ‘liberties’ at the expense of another’s soul.

Paul had previously said, “All things are lawful for me; but not all things are expedient,” 1 Corinthians 6:12. He again makes the same statement in 1 Corinthians 10:23. The point is that in some cases wisdom, judgment, and love for brethren must dictate whether or not I exercise a certain liberty.

If I am bent on exercising my liberty I may cause others (the weak) to stumble and thereby jeopardize their souls. Such an attitude indeed lacks love and would be sinful on my part, Romans 14:15.

Paul gives a scenario where the strong in faith cause the weak in faith to sin. The strong realize that there are not many gods but one God, Jehovah, and therefore eating meats sacrificed to idols even in the pagan temples was not a sinful act.

Chapter 10 reveals the fact that it would not be expedient to enter the pagan temple; however, Paul is simply getting the point across about each considering each other in chapter 8.

The weak brother may see the strong brother in the temple eating meats sacrificed to idols and do the same thing. The difference is in the conscience of each man. The strong eat without offence to this conscious whereas the weak eat with offence and thereby sin.

In such a case, the strong have contributed to the sin of the weak and thereby sin themselves. The strong has ‘emboldened’ the weak to eat that which violates his conscience of right and wrong. The building encouragement is directed in the wrong path, the original thought of 1 Corinthians 8:1.

Yes, I have knowledge and understanding regarding the matter of ‘idiaphora’, however, with this knowledge I cause another brother to stumble into sin because of his lack of knowledge. This brother perishes, that is, he is lost in sin because of my understanding of matters of indifference.

What this tells us is that even in matters of indifference we should use lawful judgment as to whether or not to practice it lest we cause a brother to stumble into sin. To disregard others is to sin.

“And thus, sinning against the brethren, and wounding their conscience when it is weak, ye sin against Christ” 1 Corinthians 8:12

Again, what mattered was the keeping of God’s commands and being concerned about others souls, 1 Corinthians 7:19 / Romans 14:17. Such conduct displays true love for brethren, 1 John 2:9 / 1 John 4:11.

Summary

The Jerusalem conference of Acts 15 and John’s statements in Revelation 2:14 / Revelation 2:20 exposed the sinfulness of eating meats sacrificed to idols. When one reads 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 it would appear that Paul has contradicted the clear teaching of Jesus on this issue.

Romans 14:23 seems to be the connecting link to understanding the relationship between Acts 15, Revelation 2 and 1 Corinthians 8 and 10. It reads, “But he that doubts is condemned if he eats, because he eats not of faith; and whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Clearly, the matter of eating meats sacrificed to idols was an issue of ‘adiaphora’.

Paul said, “But food will not commend us to God: neither, if we eat not, are we the worse; nor, if we eat, are we the better,” 1 Corinthians 8:7

Whether one eats meats, sets aside a special day of the week for study or is circumcised really does not affect the soul, Romans 14:1-5 / 1 Corinthians 7:19.

These areas are termed ‘liberties’ or matters of ‘adiaphora’, 1 Corinthians 8:9. Yet if one were to violate his conscious by eating meats sacrificed to idols, to him it would be sin.

Many Gentiles were raised in pagan societies that habitually worshipped various deities and thereby it was a way of life until they obeyed the gospel. Removing the falsehood of lesser deities from their hearts was a slow process.

The stronger brother may also find himself in sin by pressing his liberties to the point of causing the weak brother to stumble in sin. Such activity displays a lack of love for a brother.

Paul had previously said, “All things are lawful for me; but not all things are expedient” 1 Corinthians 6:12. He again makes the same statement in 1 Corinthians 10:23.

The point is that in some cases wisdom, judgment, and love for brethren must dictate whether or not I exercise a certain liberty.

One must not confuse a liberty with a matter of ‘the faith’, Jude 3. Liberties do not affect the soul unless one is ‘brought under the power’ of the activity, 1 Corinthians 6:12. Whether or not one ‘keeps the commandments of God’ does affect the soul, 1 Corinthians 7:19.

A stumbling block refers to one inducing another to sin. To give a spiritually immature brother his way by setting aside matters of doctrinal differences is to accentuate and promote unity in diversity.

When such a brother presses us with such human reasoning may God give us the strength of the apostle Paul and “give place in the way of subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you”. Galatians 2:5

Go To 1 Corinthians 9

 

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