21 March 2017

1 Corinthians 8:1-8

“Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3but anyone who loves God is known by him.” (vv. 2-3)

Psalm: Psalm 122


In today's passage, Paul is discussing the issue of eating food that has been sacrificed to idols - which has evidently become an issue of some contention in the Corinthian community. Those who believe it's ok to partake of such food seem to be arguing that "Well, we all know that idols aren't real," and therefore that there's no harm done.

But Paul counters this argument in a rather unusual approach. He says that there's essentially a difference between knowing andknowing. Thanks for that, Paul, very helpful. But perhaps there's something here about the difference between what might be termed 'head learning' and 'heart learning.'

I might know, for example, that horror stories aren't real - that they are constructed to thrill and excite and commentate on the human condition, not to document any reality that genuinely exists beyond our own. But try telling that to me in the middle of the night in an abandoned graveyard and my heart might betray what I really believe!

To give a slightly more pertinent example, I know a lot about my husband - his height, eye colour, hair colour, favourite movies and music preferences … but I know him much more truly through 11 years of marriage and relationship. I know him much more fully, more deeply in a way that can't be defined through mere head knowledge.

In talking about the superiority of love over knowledge, Paul cleverly makes the point that where our heart leads, the rest of us will follow. If eating food sacrificed to idols really has no bearing on one's internal beliefs and thoughts, fine. But if in some way the hearts of the Corinthians are still caught up some way in the superstitions and cultures epitomised by that unholy food, then partaking in it could truly still have a negative effect. Perhaps, one might argue, it would be better to abstain altogether until the 'heart knowledge' changes.

To Ponder

  • In what areas of your life do 'head knowledge' and 'heart knowledge' seem to be in conflict? What might need to change?
  • Which practices in everyday life might seem harmless, but might not be healthy for some people because of where our hearts are? 

Bible notes author

Anna Drew

Anna Drew is Director of Communications for the Diocese of Canterbury. She is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4's Daily Service and Prayer for the Day and a freelance writer on faith issues.