1 Corinthians 8 (2)
Malcolm Horlock, Cardiff, Wales
1 Corinthians 8 - Part 2
The previous article offered (i) an introduction to 1 Corinthians 8, (ii) an outline of the chapter and (iii) some expository comments on verses 1-9. The present article provides expository comments on verses 10-13.
For ease of reference, the outline of the chapter is reproduced below.
Food offered to idols - to eat or not to eat?
(i) A preamble on the subject of ‘knowledge’, vv. 1- 3
(ii) Factor 1: there is only one God - idols have no real existence, vv. 4-6
(iii) Factor 2: the conscience of the ‘weak’ Christian : ‘Defiled’ by eating - the weak ‘stumbled’, vv. 7-9 ‘Emboldened’ to eat - the weak ‘destroyed’, vv. 10-11 ‘Wounded’ by eating - a sin against Christ, v. 12 (iv) Paul’s resolve and example, v. 13
A conscience ‘emboldened’ to eat - with the weak person being ‘destroyed’, vv. 10-11
Verse 10. Paul speaks of the conscience of the ‘weak’ Christian being ‘emboldened’, so that, in spite of his misgivings, he goes ahead and eats - and thereby suffers spiritual ruin.
The ‘weak’ Christian for whom idols are still a reality sees the supposedly ‘strong’ Christian (the man with ‘knowledge’) eating in the temple. The ‘weak’, not unreasonably, concludes that he may also eat. But, when he does, he is not able to put aside the thought that he is doing exactly what he used to do before he became a Christian, namely, eating a meal with an idol/god.1
Paul envisages the Christian who has ‘knowledge eating (literally, ‘lying down, reclining on a couch’) in an idol’s temple’ (literally ‘an idol place’. Paul appears to studiously avoid the use of either of the two usual Greek words for ‘temple’ because he knows that no real ‘god’ actually dwells there). Excavations at Corinth have uncovered rooms with couches2 for sacred meals in the sanctuaries both of Demeter and Asclepius, as well as in the sanctuary of Poseidon in nearby Isthmia.3
As I understand it, Paul taught that, if the eating of the food was in any way connected with idol-worship - if it was in honour of a heathen god or whatever, the Christian was to have nothing whatever to do with it. Such eating constituted the ‘table of demons’ and involved the eater in fellowship with demons, and it didn’t matter one iota whether this took place in the idol’s temple or in a private home.
It is possible that verse 10 has some such occasion in mind; but I don’t think so. I think it far more likely that Paul is thinking here of a social meal in the temple restaurant, rather than of some blatant act of idolatry. But, Paul points out that, even if the meat was being eaten in the kind of eating-place which involved no explicitly idolatrous practice, given that this was within the temple precinct, it would still be obvious to everyone (including the brother who was tucking into it) that the meat had earlier performed duty as part of an offering to the god who supposedly dwelt there. Given then the associations of the place where it was being eaten (and on the principle, which Paul states clearly in chapter 10, that one should ‘flee’ from all association with idolatry), the brother shouldn’t have been eating the meat there in any case.
When, after further illustrating the principle of waiving one’s rights in chapter 9, Paul returns to the subject of idol meat in chapter 10. He will point out that the meat remains uncontaminated in itself even after it has played its part in the idolatrous sacrificial ritual and that the Christian should therefore have no concerns about eating it. This would be whether (i) it is later bought in the market for eating in his own home, or (ii) it later forms part of some social (but non-idolatrous) meal provided by a neighbour or friend. The only thing to watch out for in the latter case, Paul says, is if somebody with a weaker conscience happens for some reason to know the history of the steak and makes the point of telling you that it is idol-food. In that case you stick to the vegetables - for the sake of that man’s conscience.
The word translated ‘emboldened’ in verse 10 means ‘edified’; that is, ‘built up’. This is the only time that Paul, who uses the word on five other occasions in this letter alone, employs it in a negative sense. I suspect that there is more than a touch of irony in the way in which he now uses the word. It is love, he had said earlier which really ‘edifies/builds up’, v. 1. For someone by their example to bring pressure to bear on somebody else to do what they believe to be wrong is a case of ‘inverse edification’!
In all likelihood, those with ‘knowledge’ felt that it would be a good thing for the weak brother to see them eating idol food and so be led to imitate their example. To their way of thinking, this ‘freedom’ would ‘build him up’. You will gather that Paul didn’t agree! ‘Build him up’, he is saying, ‘to do what? You would deliberately lead the weak (out of deference to your professed superior knowledge) to do what he believes in his heart to be at best doubtful and at worst sinful. And so lead him inevitably to feelings of guilt, to the pain of remorse, to the loss of his communion with God, and ultimately to the shipwreck of his entire spiritual life. Well done! Some building up that!’
But in fact Paul has kept his hardest punches to the last!
Verse 11. ‘The weak’, literally translated, ‘is being destroyed (present tense) by (as a result of) your knowledge - the brother because for whom Christ died’. Every word of this sentence is designed to hammer home the seriousness of what these men with ‘knowledge’ were doing:
(i) There is the weakness of the person injured - for whom, if anything, on account of that very weakness, they should have felt and shown nothing but compassion and consideration.
(ii) There is the greatness of the injury done - to cause spiritual damage and even total spiritual disaster - the word translated ‘perish’ denoting ruin and the loss of well-being.4
(iii) There is the matter of their relationship to the injured - he is a ‘brother’, not a stranger. I note that this is the first time in the chapter that Paul describes the weak man in this way. And I gather from verse 13 that it is in the same light that he himself always regards those who need special consideration.
(iv) There is the love of Christ for the man. Paul strikes the stark contrast between, on the one hand, the selfish indifference of the strong towards the weak brother, and on the other, the ultimate self-sacrifice of Christ for him. ‘Christ by His action, in dying for the man’, Paul is saying, ‘sought only his greatest - his highest - good. Yet, in effect, by your action, you seek only his greatest - his utmost - harm! Christ (none less than Christ) died (nothing less than died) for that man. The Lord Jesus was prepared to go to a cross for him, and you aren’t willing even to bypass a rump steak for him’.
When Paul says of the weak brother that Christ died ‘for’ him, he uses one of four different Greek words which are translated ‘for’ in the context of the Lord’s death, each of which has its own nuance and shade of meaning, for further details see Annex A. One word signifies that the death of Jesus in some way concerned me; that is, it had something to do with me.. That is not the word here. Another word signifies that His death was in my interests; that is, that He died on my behalf. But that is not the word here either. Another word signifies that He died instead of me; that is, that He died in my place. No, you guessed, that is not the word here either. The word Paul uses here signifies that He died ‘because of’ me; that is, it tells me that I am the reason He died. Except that, I note, he is saying this not about me but about my brother! He is hitting me very hard with the fact that the man whose spiritual ruin I’m willing to risk is the very reason that my Lord died.
But Paul isn’t finished yet. He has one more punch to land. Which brings us to verse 12.
A conscience ‘wounded’ by eating - being a sin against Christ, v. 12
Verse 12. And so, Paul says, you ‘wound their weak conscience’; the word ‘wound’ signifying ‘strike, smite, beat’. This word is used of the treatment which Sosthenes received when he was beaten in front of Gallio’s judgement seat at Corinth, Acts 18. 17. ‘In effect’, Paul says to the Corinthians, ‘you will be meting out to your own brethren the very treatment which Sosthenes received in your city, and you will be doing this to your ‘weak’ brethren! How contemptible can you get . . . how low can you stoop . . . to strike one who is weak! Yes, but not only so, but I want you to know that, in sinning against your brother by doing something to harm, injure or damage him and his conscience, you are sinning against Christ!’
This because anything which undermines my brother’s faith or spiritual life … anything which threatens to cause spiritual harm to my brother … is a sin against the Lord Jesus. ‘Against Christ’, this is not only because my brother belongs to Him but because my brother is ‘in Christ’ and Christ is in him. Yes, the same One who once died for my brother, v. 11, now lives in him, v. 12! And so for me to injure my brother is for me to injure my Lord. Which is what this one-time Saul of Tarsus had once discovered so dramatically back on the Damascus Road. For, though Saul had been ‘breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord’, the glorified Lord had challenged him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me? . . . I am Jesus whom you persecute’, Acts 9. 1, 4-5.
I note that Matthew uses this very word ’wound’ when describing the treatment which Jesus received from the soldiers immediately before His crucifixion, when ‘they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head’, Matt. 27. 30. ‘You wouldn’t have done that to Jesus Himself, would you? Then don’t do it to Him through one of His members!’ And I sin against Christ also in that, in practice, I set out to frustrate the very object for which He died, which was to bless and do that man the utmost good. In doing something which will damage him, I therefore find myself at cross-purposes with Christ. I find myself on a collision course with His gracious purpose for my brother. I am sinning therefore, Paul is telling me, not only against my weak brother but also against my wonderful Saviour.
Paul’s resolve and example, v. 13
The apostle’s teaching in verses 7-12 would certainly have had profound social implications for the Corinthian believers. The business meetings, weddings, and birthday parties in such ‘temple dining room’ settings were now no longer possible.
Verse 13. Paul switches abruptly at this point from the plural to the singular (to ‘I’ and ‘my’) as he concludes by making a direct and personal application of these principles to himself. I wonder if Paul had imagined someone at Corinth saying, ‘This all sounds very fine, but does this man actually practise what he preaches? I mean, the whole thing about idol meat is entirely hypothetical in Paul’s case. As a Jewish Pharisee, he’s probably never eaten idol-meat in his life, and probably has no taste for it. It’s not going to cost him anything to give up what he’s never had’.
‘Then let me tell you’, Paul insists, ‘that, in the light of the sobering twin-truth that Christ once died for my brother and now lives in him, I am resolved . . . I am determined that if meat - and not only meat offered to idols, but any kind of meat, even . . . meat, causes my brother to stumble or ‘be snared’, I will by no means (emphatic - a double negative) eat flesh for ever more (‘to the age’) lest I caused my brother to stumble’. In other words, ‘If it should come to it, I am willing to become a vegetarian for the rest of my days. And what I am asking of you Corinthians is far, far less costly than that.’
The Corinthians had approached the issue of eating idol meat from the standpoint of their ‘knowledge’ and their ‘rights’. But Paul approaches the issue from an entirely different direction - from the standpoint of his brother and his brother’s spiritual good. To Paul it isn’t a question of ‘knowledge’, and of the rights which that ‘knowledge’ brings; it is a question of love and of the responsibilities which that love brings. My behaviour is not to be determined by my ‘knowledge’ alone, and certainly not by my supposed rights. God expects me to show respect and consideration for the conscience and spiritual welfare of my fellow Christians.
To be continued
FOUR GREEK PREPOSITIONS TRANSLATED ‘FOR’ IN THE CONTEXT OF OUR LORD’S DEATH
Each of the main verses below tells us that the Lord Jesus died ‘for’ us. But great riches lie in that little word ‘for’. In each of these verses, it translates one of four different Greek words - four different prepositions. Each of these prepositions has its own peculiar emphasis, nuance and shade of meaning. And each has something slightly different to tell us about the death of the Lord Jesus for us.
1. ‘This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins’, Matt. 26. 28. The word translated ‘for’ peri - with (the genitive) means ‘concerning, about, with reference to, having (something) to do with’. It is found for example in, ‘He expounded to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself’, Luke 24. 27; ‘Everyone of us shall give account of himself to God’, Rom. 14. 12; ‘Casting . . . he cares for (it matters to him about) you’, 1 Pet. 5. 7.
I learn that His blood and death ‘concerned’ me; it had ‘something to do with’ me.
2. ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives (lays down) his life for the sheep’, John 10. 11 (so too ‘I lay down my life for the sheep’, v. 15). The word translated ‘for’ uper - with the genitive) means ‘on behalf of, in the interests of’, in some way ‘for the benefit of’. It is used for example in, ‘Who for my life laid down [different word to John 10. 11, 15.] their own necks’, Rom. 16. 4 KJV; ‘we do not commend ourselves again to you, but give you opportunity to boast on our behalf’, 2 Cor. 5. 12; ‘our boasting on your behalf’, 2 Cor. 8. 24.
I learn that His death was in my interests; He died on my behalf.
3. ‘To give his life a ransom for many’, Mark 10. 45, (Matt. 20. 28). The word translated ‘for’ anti means ‘instead of, in the place of’. It appears for example in, ‘You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth"’, Matt. 5. 38; ‘when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod’, Matt. 2. 22. It appears in the Septuagint in, ‘. . . offered him (the ram) up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son’, Gen. 22. 13; ‘Let your servant abide instead of the lad’, Gen. 44. 33, (the words of Judah to Joseph).
I learn that I can say, with greater depth of meaning than even Barabbas could, He died ‘instead of me’; ‘He died in my place’.
4. ‘The weak brother . . . for whom Christ died’, 1 Cor. 8. 11. The word translated ‘for’ dia - with the accusative) means ‘because of, for the sake of, on account of’. It occurs for example in, ‘For the gospel’s sake’, 1 Cor. 9. 23; ‘(Paul) took . . . and circumcised (Timothy) because of the Jews which were in that region’, Acts 16. 3; ‘They could not enter in because of unbelief’, Heb. 3. 19.
I learn that He died ‘because of me’; that ‘I am the reason He died’.
His death had something to do with me; it was on my behalf; it was in my place . . . it was because of me.
- Note the words of the following invitation to dine: ‘The god calls you to a banquet being held in the temple of Thoeris tomorrow from the 9th hour’ - from New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity by G. H. R. HORSLEY. The fiction was that one of the gods was actually calling the person to the meal. (Reproduced from Endnote 2 to Part 1.)
- ‘Sacrifices being of the nature of feasts, the Greeks and Romans on occasion of extraordinary solemnities placed images of the gods reclining on couches, with tables and food before them, as if they were really partaking of the things offered in sacrifice. This ceremony was called a lectisternium. Three specimens of the couches employed for the purpose are in the Glyptotek at Munich. One of them - of white marble somewhat more than two feet in height - has a cushion covered by a cloth hanging in ample folds down each side. At the most noted lectisternium at Rome, the statue of Jupiter was laid in a reclining posture on a couch. Jupiter Serapis and Juno or Isis, together with Apollo and Diana, are so exhibited with a table before them on the handle of a Roman lamp engraved by Bartoli (Luc. Ant. ii. 34)’; SMITH’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities; article Lectisterium.
- Archaeology and the Bible, EDWIN YAMAUCHI, Zondervan, 1979, page 82. ‘The excavated temple dedicated to the healing god Asklepios [the Asclepeum] in Corinth shows these [dining room facilities] clearly. The sanctuary, a large room with an altar in the centre, is on the main level. A lower level, part of which is beneath the sanctuary and part of which extends out into a courtyard, had at least three rooms with dining couches which were used for dining or banquet facilities. Other potential (though not archeologically certain) dining facilities include temples dedicated to Serapis and other sites dedicated to as yet unidentified gods. These temple dining rooms did not have an exclusively religious function. They were places to conduct business, hold celebrations and banquets, or for casual dining, from Idols, eating and Rights: Faithful and Loving Witness in a Pluralistic Culture by JEFFREY KLOHA, Concordia Journal, Vol. 30, No. 3, page 185. See also Paul’s Corinth: Text and Archaeology, by JEROME MURPHYO’CONNOR. Apparently, the three banqueting rooms in the Asclepeum could accommodate eleven people each. Small tables were provided and cooking appears to have been done in each of them. The Demeter precinct at the foot of Acrocorinth, dating back to at least 146 B.C., boasts 40 banqueting rooms. See further Church and Gentile Cults at Corinth by MARK HARDING, Grace Theological Journal, V10 #2 (Fall 89): page 207. (Largely reproduced from Footnote 8 to Part 1.)
- ‘The idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being but of well-being’, W. E. VINE, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words: Article ‘Destroy’ A.1. And see especially the use of the word in 2 Cor. 4. 9 and in Luke 5. 37.