9 September 2010

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

"If others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall." (v.10-13)


Two pieces of social background help us make sense of this rather obscure passage.

The first concerns "food sacrificed for idols", which is the key theme through this and the next two chapters of Paul's first letter to the Corinthian church. Within the prevailing ancient Greek culture, the temples of gods and goddesses served as community centres, the places people held their special celebratory meals. Ritual worship and sacrifice were invariably a part of such functions, but not the heart of them. Moreover, most of the meat on sale in the marketplace would have been slaughtered in the temples which effectively served as abattoirs. In chapter 10 Paul gives more space to arguing that Christians should not eat in pagan temples, but says that market meat may be bought and eaten without raising questions of conscience for a Christian.

The second key piece of background concerns the value that the Greeks placed on knowledge and its pursuit. So the words in verse 1 - "all of us possess knowledge" - are to be taken as a claim of those Christians who believe that the knowledge that is theirs 'in Christ' enables them to know that idols are worthless, and therefore so is the worship of them. This, they claim, allows them to socialise in the temples without any risk to their faith.

Paul makes his key point immediately, that love counts more than knowledge, and it is that which governs his subsequent instruction on the whole subject. Paul then indicates that he agrees with the further claims of the libertarians (verse 4-6), but then he addresses the fact that many believers have not yet risen above their pagan past and that for those who still think of idols as having some reality it would be sinful to eat meat in a pagan setting. If some of their Christian peers are so eating, they are likely to follow suit and so go against their conscience and be judged for it.

To Ponder

This passage presents us with the interesting notion that an action may not be right or wrong in an absolute sense, but is to be judged in terms of what impact our doing it might have on others. What are the issues today where you believe it is perfectly right for a Christian to do something in private, but it may not be right in the company of others who are not persuaded that it would be OK for them?

The 'demon drink' has sometimes been regarded as a parallel example in modern culture to food sacrificed to idols. In what ways is the issue equivalent?

Paul says in verse 13 that he will never eat meat if to do so risks causing someone else to stumble. What pleasures would you be prepared to give up if a Christian friend felt they were not proper activities for a Christian to engage in?

"In fact there are many gods and many lords" (verse 5). People today do not worship the kind of idols found in Greek temples, but what 'gods' and 'lords' do they serve? Which of these are a temptation to you?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Mosedale

Stephen Mosedale is a recently retired Methodist minister now living in Devon. He is enjoying the freedom that gives, whenever mood and weather dictsate, to walk on Dartmoor, photograph varied and ever-changing seascapes, or grow vegetables in the garden.