The apostle, in this chapter, answers another case proposed to him by
some of the Corinthians, about eating those things that had been
sacrificed to idols.
I. He hints at the occasion of this case, and gives a caution against
too high an esteem of their knowledge,
1 Corinthians 8:1-3.
II. He asserts the vanity of idols, the unity of the Godhead, and the
sole mediation of Christ between God and man,
1 Corinthians 8:4-6.
III. He tells them that upon supposition that it were lawful in itself
to eat of things offered to idols (for that they themselves are
nothing), yet regard must be had to the weakness of Christian brethren,
and nothing done that would lay a stumbling block before them, and
occasion their sin and destruction,
1 Corinthians 8:7-13.
On Things Offered to Idols.
A. D. 57.
1 Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we
all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.
2 And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth
nothing yet as he ought to know.
3 But if any man love God, the same is known of him.
The apostle comes here to the case of things that had been offered to
idols, concerning which some of them sought satisfaction: a case that
frequently occurred in that age of Christianity, when the church of
Christ was among the heathen, and the Israel of God must live among the
Canaanites. For the better understanding of it, it must be observed
that it was a custom among the heathens to make feasts on their
sacrifices, and not only to eat themselves, but invite their friends to
partake with them. These were usually kept in the temple, where the
sacrifice was offered
(1 Corinthians 8:10),
and, if any thing was left when the feast ended, it was usual to carry
away a portion to their friends; what remained, after all, belonged to
the priests, who sometimes sold it in the markets. See
1 Corinthians 10:25.
Nay, feasts, as Athenæus informs us, were always accounted, among
the heathen, sacred and religious things, so that they were wont to
sacrifice before all their feasts; and it was accounted a very profane
thing among them, athyta esthiein, to eat at their
private tables any meat whereof they had not first sacrificed on such
occasions. In this circumstance of things, while Christians lived among
idolaters, had many relations and friends that were such, with whom
they must keep up acquaintance and maintain good neighbourhood, and
therefore have occasion to eat at their tables, what should they do if
any thing that had been sacrificed should be set before them? What, if
they should be invited to feast with them in their temples? It seems as
if some of the Corinthians had imbibed an opinion that even this might
be done, because they knew an idol was nothing in the world,
1 Corinthians 8:4.
The apostle seems to answer more directly to the case
(1 Corinthians 10:1-22),
and here to argue, upon supposition of their being right in this
thought, against their abuse of their liberty to the prejudice of
others; but he plainly condemns such liberty in
1 Corinthians 10:1-22.
The apostle introduces his discourse with some remarks about knowledge
that seem to carry in them a censure of such pretences to knowledge as
I have mentioned: We know, says the apostle, that we all have
(1 Corinthians 8:1);
as if he had said, "You who take such liberty are not the only knowing
persons; we who abstain know as much as you of the vanity of idols, and
that they are nothing; but we know too that the liberty you take is
very culpable, and that even lawful liberty must be used with charity
and not to the prejudice of weaker brethren." Knowledge puffeth up,
but charity edifieth,
1 Corinthians 8:1.
1. The preference of charity to conceited knowledge. That is best which
is fitted to do the greatest good. Knowledge, or at least a high
conceit of it, is very apt to swell the mind, to fill it with wind, and
so puff it up. This tends to no good to ourselves, but in many
instances is much to the hurt of others. But true love, and tender
regard to our brethren, will put us upon consulting their interest, and
acting as may be for their edification. Observe,
2. That there is no evidence of ignorance more common than a conceit of
knowledge: If any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth
nothing yet as he ought to know. He that knows most best
understands his own ignorance, and the imperfection of human knowledge.
He that imagines himself a knowing man, and is vain and conceited on
this imagination, has reason to suspect that he knows nothing aright,
nothing as he ought to know it. Note, It is one thing to know
truth, and another to know it as we ought, so as duly to improve our
knowledge. Much may be known when nothing is known to any good purpose,
when neither ourselves nor others are the better for our knowledge. And
those who think they know any thing, and grow fain hereupon, are of all
men most likely to make no good use of their knowledge; neither
themselves nor others are likely to be benefited by it. But,
adds the apostle, if any man love God, the same is known of God.
If any man love God, and is thereby influenced to love his neighbour,
the same is known of God; that is, as some understand it, is made by
him to know, is taught of God. Note, Those that love God are most
likely to be taught of God, and be made by him to know as they ought.
Some understand it thus: He shall be approved of God; he will accept
him and have pleasure in him. Note, The charitable person is most
likely to have God's favour. Those who love God, and for his sake love
their brethren and seek their welfare, are likely to be beloved of God;
and how much better is it to be approved of God than to have a vain
opinion of ourselves!
On Eating Things Offered to Idols.
A. D. 57.
4 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.
5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven
or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
6 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.
In this passage he shows the vanity of idols: As to the eating of
things that have been sacrificed to idols, we know that an idol is
nothing in the world; or, there is no idol in the world; or, an
idol can do nothing in the world: for the form of expression in the
original is elliptical. The meaning in the general is, that heathen
idols have no divinity in them; and therefore the Old Testament they
are commonly called lies and vanities, or lying
vanities. They are merely imaginary gods, and many of them no
better than imaginary beings; they have no power to pollute the
creatures of God, and thereby render them unfit to be eaten by a child
or servant of God. Every creature of God is good, if it be received
1 Timothy 4:4.
It is not in the power of the vanities of the heathens to change its
nature.--And there is no other God but one. Heathen idols are
not gods, nor to be owned and respected as gods, for there is no other
God but one. Note, the unity of the Godhead is a fundamental principle
in Christianity, and in all right religion. The gods of the heathens
must be nothing in the world, must have no divinity in them, nothing of
real godhead belonging to them; for there is no other God but one.
Others may be called gods: There are that are called gods, in heaven
and earth, gods many, and lords many; but they are falsely thus
called. The heathens had many such, some in heaven and some on earth,
celestial deities, that were of highest rank and repute among them, and
terrestrial ones, men made into gods, that were to mediate for men with
the former, and were deputed by them to preside over earthly affairs.
These are in scripture commonly called Baalim. They had gods of
higher and lower degree; nay, many in each order: gods many, and
lords many; but all titular deities and mediators: so called, but
not such in truth. All their divinity and mediation were imagery. For,
1. To us there is but one God, says the apostle, the Father,
of whom are all things, and we in or for him. We Christians are
better informed; we well know there is but one God, the fountain of
being, the author of all things, maker, preserver, and governor of the
whole world, of whom and for whom are all things. Not one God to govern
one part of mankind, or one rank and order of men, and another to
govern another. One God made all, and therefore has power over all. All
things are of him, and we, and all things else, are for him. Called the
Father here, not in contradistinction to the other persons of
the sacred Trinity, and to exclude them from the Godhead, but in
contradistinction to all creatures that were made by God, and whose
formation is attributed to each of these three in other places of
scripture, and not appropriated to the Father alone. God the Father, as
Fons et fundamentum Trinitatis--as the first person in the Godhead,
and the original of the other two, stands here for the Deity, which
yet comprehends all three, the name God being sometimes in scripture
ascribed to the Father, kat exochen, or by way of
eminency, because he is fons et principiam Deitatis (as
Calvin observes), the fountain of the Deity in the other two,
they having it by communication from him: so that there is but one God
the Father, and yet the Son is God too, but is not another God, the
Father, with his Son and Spirit, being the one God, but not without
them, or so as to exclude them from the Godhead.
2. There is to us but one Lord, one Mediator between God and men, even
Jesus Christ. Not many mediators, as the heathen imagined, but one
only, by whom all things were created and do consist, and to whom all
our hope and happiness are owing--the man Christ Jesus; but a man in
personal union with the divine Word, or God the Son. This very man hath
God made both Lord and Christ,
Jesus Christ, in his human nature and mediatorial state, has a
delegated power, a name given him, though above every name, that at his
name every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that he is Lord.
And thus he is the only Lord, the only Mediator, that Christians
acknowledge, the only person who comes between God and sinners,
administers the world's affairs under God, and mediates for men with
God. All the lords of this sort among heathens are merely imaginary
ones. Note, It is the great privilege of us Christians that we know the
true God, and true Mediator between God and man: the true God, and
Jesus Christ whom he hath sent,
On Eating Things Offered to Idols.
A. D. 57.
7 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.
8 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.
9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become
a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
10 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;
11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for
whom Christ died?
12 But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their
weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.
13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no
flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.
The apostle, having granted, and indeed confirmed, the opinion of some
among the Corinthians, that idols were nothing, proceeds now to show
them that their inference from this assumption was not just, namely,
that therefore they might go into the idol-temple, and eat of the
sacrifices, and feast there with their heathen neighbours. He does not
indeed here so much insist upon the unlawfulness of the thing in itself
as the mischief such freedom might do to weaker Christians, persons
that had not the same measure of knowledge with these pretenders. And
I. He informs them that every Christian man, at that time, was not so
fully convinced and persuaded that an idol was nothing. Howbeit,
there is not in every man this knowledge; for some, with conscience of
the idol, unto this hour, eat it as a thing offered unto an idol;
with conscience of the idol; that is, some confused veneration for it.
Though they were converts to Christianity, and professed the true
religion, they were not perfectly cured of the old leaven, but retained
an unaccountable respect for the idols they had worshipped before.
Note, Weak Christians may be ignorant, or have but a confused knowledge
of the greatest and plainest truths. Such were those of the one God and
one Mediator. And yet some of those who were turned form heathenism to
Christianity among the Corinthians seem to have retained a veneration
for their idols, utterly irreconcilable with those great principles; so
that when an opportunity offered to eat things offered to idols they
did not abstain, to testify their abhorrence of idolatry, nor eat with
a professed contempt of the idol, by declaring they looked upon it to
be nothing; and so their conscience, being weak, was defiled;
that is, they contracted guilt; they ate out of respect to the idol,
with an imagination that it had something divine in it, and so
committed idolatry: whereas the design of the gospel was to turn men
from dumb idols to the living God. They were weak in their
understanding, not thoroughly apprized of the vanity of idols; and,
while they ate what was sacrificed to them out of veneration for them,
contracted the guilt of idolatry, and so greatly polluted themselves.
This seems to be the sense of the place; though some understand it of
weak Christians defiling themselves by eating what was offered to an
idol with an apprehension that thereby it became unclean, and made
those so in a moral sense who should eat it, every one not having a
knowledge that the idol was nothing, and therefore that it could not
render what was offered to it in this sense unclean. Note, We should be
careful to do nothing that may occasion weak Christians to defile their
II. He tells them that mere eating and drinking had nothing in them
virtuous nor criminal, nothing that could make them better nor worse,
pleasing nor displeasing to God: Meat commendeth us not to God; for
neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we eat not are we the
1 Corinthians 8:8.
It looks as if some of the Corinthians made a merit of their eating
what had been offered to idols, and that in their very temples too
(1 Corinthians 8:10),
because it plainly showed that they thought the idols nothing. But
eating and drinking are in themselves actions indifferent. It matters
little what we eat. What goes into the man of this sort neither
purifies nor defiles. Flesh offered to idols may in itself be as proper
for food as any other; and the bare eating, or forbearing to eat, has
no virtue in it. Note, It is a gross mistake to think that distinction
of food will make any distinction between men in God's account. Eating
this food, and forbearing that, having nothing in them to recommend a
person to God.
III. He cautions them against abusing their liberty, the liberty they
thought they had in this matter. For that they mistook this matter, and
had no allowance to sit at meat in the idol's temple, seems plain from
1 Corinthians 10:20,
&c. But the apostle argues here that, even upon the
supposition that they had such power, they must be cautious how they
use it; it might be a stumbling-block to the weak
(1 Corinthians 8:9),
it might occasion their falling into idolatrous actions, perhaps their
falling off from Christianity and revolting again to heathenism. "If a
man see thee, who hast knowledge (hast superior understanding to his,
and hereupon concedest that thou hast a liberty to sit at meat, or
feast, in an idol's temple, because an idol, thou sayest, is nothing),
shall not one who is less thoroughly informed in this matter, and
thinks an idol something, be emboldened to eat what was offered to the
idol, not as common food, but sacrifice, and thereby be guilty of
idolatry?" Such an occasion of falling they should be careful of laying
before their weak brethren, whatever liberty or power they themselves
had. The apostle backs this caution with two considerations:--
1. The danger that might accrue to weak brethren, even those weak
brethren for whom Christ died. We must deny ourselves even what is
lawful rather than occasion their stumbling, and endanger their souls
(1 Corinthians 8:11):
Through thy knowledge shall thy weak brother perish, for whom Christ
died? Note, Those whom Christ hath redeemed with his most precious
blood should be very precious and dear to us. If he had such compassion
as to die for them, that they might not perish, we should have so much
compassion for them as to deny ourselves, for their sakes, in various
instances, and not use our liberty to their hurt, to occasion their
stumbling, or hazard their ruin. That man has very little of the spirit
of the Redeemer who had rather his brother should perish than himself
be abridged, in any respect, of his liberty. He who hath the Spirit of
Christ in him will love those whom Christ loved, so as to die for them,
and will study to promote their spiritual and eternal warfare, and shun
every thing that would unnecessarily grieve them, and much more every
thing that would be likely to occasion their stumbling, or falling into
2. The hurt done to them Christ takes as done to himself: When you
sin so against the weak brethren and wound their consciences, you sin
1 Corinthians 8:12.
Note, Injuries done to Christians are injuries to Christ, especially to
babes in Christ, to weak Christians; and most of all, involving them in
guilt: wounding their consciences is wounding him. He has a particular
care of the lambs of the flock: He gathers them in his arm and
carries them in his bosom,
Strong Christians should be very careful to avoid what will offend weak
ones, or lay a stumbling-block in their way. Shall we be void of
compassion for those to whom Christ has shown so much? Shall we sin
against Christ who suffered for us? Shall we set ourselves to defeat
his gracious designs, and help to ruin those whom he died to save?
IV. He enforces all with his own example
(1 Corinthians 8:13):
Wherefore if meat make my brother to offend I will eat no flesh
while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend. He does
not say that he will never eat more. This were to destroy himself, and
to commit a heinous sin, to prevent the sin and fall of a brother. Such
evil must not be done that good may come of it. But, though it was
necessary to eat, it was not necessary to eat flesh. And therefore,
rather than occasion sin in a brother, he would abstain from it as long
as he lived. He had such a value for the soul of his brother that he
would willingly deny himself in a matter of liberty, and forbear any
particular food, which he might have lawfully eaten and might like to
eat, rather than lay a stumbling-block in a weak brother's way, and
occasion him to sin, by following his example, without being clear in
his mind whether it were lawful or no. Note, We should be very tender
of doing any thing that may be an occasion of stumbling to others,
though it may be innocent in itself. Liberty is valuable, but the
weakness of a brother should induce, and sometimes bind, us to waive
it. We must not rigorously claim nor use our own rights, to the hurt
and ruin of a brother's soul, and so to the in jury of our Redeemer,
who died for him. When it is certainly foreseen that my doing what I
may forbear will occasion a fellow-christian to do what he ought to
forbear, I shall offend, scandalize, or lay a stumbling-block in his
way, which to do is a sin, however lawful the thing itself be which is
done. And, if we must be so careful not to occasion other men's sins,
how careful should we be to avoid sin ourselves! If we must not
endanger other men's souls, how much should we be concerned not to
destroy our own!
Matthew Henry "Verse by Verse Commentary for '1 Corinthians' Matthew Henry Bible Commentary".