1 Corinthians Chapter 8

The last chapter was extremely long. This one is on the short side.

1Περὶ δὲ τῶν εἰδωλοθύτων, οἴδαμεν ὅτι πάντες γνῶσιν ἔχομεν. ἡ γνῶσις φυσιοῖ, ἡδὲ ἀγάπη οἰκοδομεῖ.

Regarding the idol food, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge inflates (i.e., puffs us with pride), but love builds.

A couple of things. What I have so clumsily rendered as ‘idol food’ refers to food, specifically meat, that was offered as a sacrifice to one of the pagan gods/goddesses. The thing was, a sacrifice of meat like this was intended as a communal sacrifice, but also a communal meal. Certain parts of the animal (the less edible parts) were burnt completely in offering, but most of the animal was cooked and served to the community. This was a means of redistributing wealth; those at the top of the pyramid often provided the sacrificial victims, but the meat was then shared by those at the bottom. Such sacrificial meals were an important source of protein for the poorer members of the community, so whether or not the meat could be eaten by followers of Jesus was an important question. It was not only a cultic matter; it was a matter of nutrition. Foregoing such food could pose a real hardship on a poorer person, especially one in a town who would not have access to meat on a regular basis. Farmers, of course, could raise chickens or pigs, but not all of them could afford to do so. What this tells us is that the eucharistic meal was truly just that; and it was also something that fit easily into the context of the times. Jesus was not breaking any molds by implementing a sacrificial meal.

[ Note: I am not familiar with Jewish practice on this. I have the sense that the sacrifices were not shared, but I could be 100% wrong about that. However, this passage seems to indicate that sharing the meat was not customary; he is talking about idols, after all, and Jews would not sacrifice to statues of any kind. But, this was Corinth; the practice in Jerusalem–the center of the sacrificial aspect of Judaism–may have been different. ]

Once more Paul denigrates the knowledge of the world, or, perhaps, a ‘sophisticated’ understanding of the issue.

One last thing: the KJV says that “love (charity, actually) edifies”. The Greek word is for constructing an edifice; in Latin, this becomes <<aedificare>>, which is, fairly obviously, the root of ‘edify’, which means ‘to instruct’, usually with moral undertones.I just find it interesting to see how these words change as they develop. Of course, when the KJV was written, ‘edify’ may have meant ‘to build’.

1 De idolothytis autem, scimus quia omnes scientiam habemus. Scientia inflat, caritas vero aedificat.

2 εἴ τις δοκεῖ ἐγνωκέναι τι, οὔπω ἔγνω καθὼς δεῖ γνῶναι:

If someone seems to have learned something, he does not yet know what he ought to know.

More of Paul’s supposedly non-rhetorical rhetoric. But he’s building his case here; the payoff has yet to be delivered.

2 Si quis se existimat scire aliquid, nondum cognovit, quemadmodum oporteat eum scire;

3 εἰ δέ τις ἀγαπᾷ τὸν θεόν, οὗτος ἔγνωσται ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ.

But if someone loves God, that person has learned from him (God).

To some degree, this goes back to what I was saying in Chapter 7 when Paul talked about being shown “compassion” by God. So here, if we love God, God will inform us about what we need. This strengthens my idea that much of what Paul taught was what came to him, by inspiration as we would say, by being filled with the sacred breath. This is, I think. what this passage reflects: love leading to being filled with the knowledge imparted by the sacred breath.

3 si quis autem diligit Deum, hic cognitus est ab eo.

4 Περὶ τῆς βρώσεως οὖν τῶν εἰδωλοθύτων οἴδαμεν ὅτι οὐδὲν εἴδωλον ἐν κόσμῳ, καὶ ὅτι οὐδεὶς θεὸς εἰ μὴ εἷς.

Therefore regarding the meat of the idol food, we know that no idol is in the world, and that none is God except the One.

“Not in the world” means, I think, does not exist in reality. That is, they are not a god. And only the One is God; this is right out of Plato. For him, The One was the unity of all; not exactly what we mean by “God”, but similar in some respects. For Paul to use this expression when writing to a community in Greece, in which Plato was apt to be very familiar seems a deliberate attempt to co-opt the term The One for Paul’s purposes. Certainly, it would be expressing this thought in a concept very familiar to the Greeks in the community of Jesus in Corinth.

4 De esu igitur idolothytorum, scimus quia nullum idolum est in mundo, et quod nullus deus nisi Unus.

5 καὶ γὰρ εἴπερ εἰσὶν λεγόμενοι θεοὶ εἴτε ἐν οὐρανῷ εἴτε ἐπὶ γῆς, ὥσπερ εἰσὶν θεοὶ πολλοὶ καὶ κύριοι πολλοί,

And for whether we are speaking of gods whether in the sky, or upon the earth, as there are many gods and many lords (cont’d)

5 Nam et si sunt, qui dicantur dii sive in caelo sive in terra, si quidem sunt dii multi et domini multi,

6 ἀλλ’ ἡμῖν εἷς θεὸς ὁ πατήρ, ἐξ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς αὐτόν, καὶ εἷς κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, δι’ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς δι’ αὐτοῦ.

but for us one God the father, from whom all and we are in him, and one Lord Jesus the Christ, through whom all and we are through him.   [or: ]

but for us, there is one God, the father, from whom all things are, and we are in him, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all are, and we are (as in, exist) through him.

The wording is really rough, but I think the point is clear enough. However, once again, we’re forced to supply words and hope that we get the right ones. In this case, though, it seems straightforward enough. 

Also, we have a foreshadow of John 1:1 here in the idea of all things existing through the Christ. That all existence depended on God (as in YHWH) is certainly within the framework of Jewish thought. That all things exist through, or on account of the Christ, is not. With this and the idea of The One in the previous verse, we are getting a bit of cosmology, or philosophy, or something. 

6 nobis tamen unus Deus Pater, ex quo omnia et nos in illum, et unus Dominus Iesus Christus, per quem omnia et nos per ipsum.

7 Ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἐν πᾶσιν ἡ γνῶσις: τινὲς δὲ τῇ συνηθείᾳ ἕως ἄρτι τοῦ εἰδώλου ὡς εἰδωλόθυτον ἐσθίουσιν, καὶ ἡ συνείδησις αὐτῶν ἀσθενὴς οὖσα μολύνεται.

But knowledge is not in all (everyone); some by custom until now of the idols as idol-food would eat, and the the consciousness of them being weak, (was) defiled.  [or: the consciousness of those who are weak was defiled…]

Again, really clumsy translation, but that is how the Greek works. The idea is that not everyone has the knowledge to abstain from eating idol-food; some have been doing so by way of custom, and have been defiled because of their weak consciousness of what is right.

First, this was an issue for the early communities, and it never ceased to be so until Christianity was legalized by Constantine. But, the other thing is to compare this to Jesus’ proclamation that nothing you put in your mouth is unclean. And Paul’s repeated assertions that it is not necessary to follow Jewish dietary laws. This doesn’t quite seem to follow.

To be honest, I never have quite understood the sticking point. Of course, it makes sense in a religiously purist sort of way: “I am the Lord thy God”… I get that. But since that came down from Mt Sinai, the attitude towards other gods had changed. Since the exile, more or less, YHWH was not the primary god, but the only God. As such, really, what’s the big deal about stuff sacrificed to stone statues? The latter have no power, since they’re only inert matter, so, really, what difference did it make? But, this is my position, and it was absolutely not the position of Paul and all the early leaders of what became the Church. Part of it was that, by eating this food, one was partaking in the veneration of…something that was not God the Father. That was bad enough. But, far from being powerless, the gods of other pantheons became demons, so by eating the idol food, one was actively venerating an evil power. However, I’m not quite sure that the proto-Christians had reached that point when Paul wrote this; that demonisation came later.

7 Sed non in omnibus est scientia; quidam autem consuetudine usque nunc idoli quasi idolothytum manducant, et conscientia ipsorum, cum sit infirma, polluitur.

8 βρῶμα δὲ ἡμᾶς οὐ παραστήσει τῷ θεῷ: οὔτε ἐὰν μὴ φάγωμεν ὑστερούμεθα, οὔτε ἐὰν φάγωμεν περισσεύομεν.

But food does not assist us with God; neither (by) if  we don’t eat do we fail, nor if we eat do we prosper.

Well, seems that Paul agrees with me on the theology of this. The idols are merely images, without power, so what’s the big deal? It’s neither good nor bad.

8 Esca autem nos non commendat Deo; neque si non manducaverimus, deficiemus, neque si manducaverimus, abundabimus.

9 βλέπετε δὲ μή πως ἡ ἐξουσία ὑμῶν αὕτη πρόσκομμα γένηται τοῖς ἀσθενέσιν.

But if you look it is not the office of you this stumbling block to become towards the weak.

Again, very clumsy English. By “office”, I mean something like ‘role’, but << ἐξουσία >> has the sense of authority, as vested or granted by virtue of an office of state. “Role” just doesn’t capture that.  

9 Videte autem, ne forte haec licentia vestra offendiculum fiat infirmis.

10 ἐὰν γάρ τις ἴδῃ σὲ τὸν ἔχοντα γνῶσιν ἐν εἰδωλείῳ κατακείμενον, οὐχὶ ἡ συνείδησις αὐτοῦ ἀσθενοῦς ὄντος οἰκοδομηθήσεται εἰς τὸ τὰ εἰδωλόθυτα ἐσθίειν;

For if someone should see you having the knowledge in a temple (something like ‘idol-house’) reclining, would not the consciousness of one (who is) being weak be built up with regard to the eating of idol-meat?

The idea is that if someone of lesser understanding should see those sophisticated enough to understand the meaninglessness of eating idol food may give this person of lesser understanding the idea that it’s acceptable to do so. (Note: reclining is a de facto synonym for ‘eating’. What this means is that, to partake of the idol food, one would be engaged in the social intercourse of the meal, reclining on your couch, eating, and being convivial with those who actually worship the idols.

IOW, what Paul is saying is that the important aspect is not the substance of whether this is right or wrong, but the perception of the act of joining the idol-feast. Here Paul is taking another back-handed swipe at those oh-so-sophisticated Corinthians, ever-so-steeped in their pagan learning, who of course understand that this is a matter of no value. But what about those who don’t share this level of sophistication? They may be led astray by the bad example of seeing others, presumably those of stature in the community, associating with idolaters. I say that the sophisticates were people of stature because, presumably, they had the wealth to attain a certain level of education, which a) allowed them to become so sophisticated; b) put them into a social milieu in which hanging out at the local temple of Aphrodite would seem normal; and c) it would be the people of stature who would likely influence those of a lower social stratum; those of higher social station certainly would not be influenced by the actions of a mere peasant, after all. (It is perhaps difficult to overstate the degree of snobbery present among ancient societies. Mark tells us that Jesus was aware of this snobbery, and didn’t approve. And the pagans were probably much worse about it than Jews; in the OT, there are numerous admonitions for the wealthy not to scorn the poor; there wasn’t a lot of this in the pagan canon.

But let’s ask this question. Based on what we ‘know’ about Jesus, which side would he have come down on in this debate? Jesus didn’t demure from eating with tax collectors, after all, and they were certainly more of a bad example than mere idolaters.This, I think, is an interesting and salient point. Now, Jesus lived before Paul, but Paul lived and wrote before Mark, so we’ve got something like a temporal anomaly here: according to Mark, Jesus associated with tax collectors; theoretically, shouldn’t Paul have known this? And yet, in what seems, IMO, to be an analogous situation, Paul is telling his community to do things differently than Jesus supposedly did. IOW, Paul is, once again, contradicting Jesus.

Now, there are a number of possibilities, and a number of permutations. First, the situations are not at all analogous; the tax collectors, after all, were Jews; the idolaters certainly are not. We have to decide if this matters for the message that Paul–and supposedly Jesus–were spreading. I don’t think it does matter, but that’s me. Especially for Paul, who was the apostle to the Nations; why shun the association if the point is to spread the Word?

Secondly, perhaps Paul was not aware that Jesus associated with tax collectors. If not, what does that say about the probability of the historical accuracy of that story? Now, it could be that Paul was just not aware of it, but Mark was; even so, that Paul never heard of it must make us ask just how crucial this story was to the Jesus canon. Or, at least, it must make us ask just how much of what Paul taught was based on what Paul thought, not what he thought was true (or accurate), but what he thought ought to be true (regardless of accuracy). IOW, Paul taught the new that Paul thought was good; if it coincided with what Jesus taught, great. If not, oh well.

Now we will come across Paul citing things that he’s attributing to Jesus the man; he was aware of that tradition about Jesus. That he–seemingly, anyway; or perhaps may be–is contravening a core part of Jesus’ message tells us that Paul was either not aware of this core part of Jesus’ message, or that he didn’t really much care about sticking to that message. Personally, while I wouldn’t be surprised at the latter, I think that Jesus eating with tax collectors may not be historically accurate. This would have serious implications for the core message of Jesus. We need to keep this in mind when we’re reading Matthew next.

10 Si enim quis viderit eum, qui habet scientiam, in idolio recumbentem, nonne conscientia eius, cum sit infirma, aedificabitur ad manducandum idolothyta?

11 ἀπόλλυται γὰρ ὁ ἀσθενῶν ἐν τῇ σῇ γνώσει, ὁ ἀδελφὸς δι’ ὃν Χριστὸς ἀπέθανεν.

For the weak will be destroyed by (lit = ‘in’) your understanding, the brother on account of whom (the) Christ died.

So, there we have it. Eating idol food is not a sin; it’s not bad. But, being seen eating idol food may be a detriment to the weak in the community. So what about eating with tax collectors? And why the difference? The idolaters are pagans? But isn’t that the group Paul was allocated?

In all we have an interesting phenomenon here. Paul is being very human in this assessment. He is not being a philosopher, nor a theologian. He understands that there is no metaphysical problem here; rather, the problem is of very human scale.

11 Peribit enim infirmus in tua scientia, frater, propter quem Christus mortuus est!

12 οὕτως δὲ ἁμαρτάνοντες εἰς τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς καὶ τύπτοντες αὐτῶν τὴν συνείδησιν ἀσθενοῦσαν εἰς Χριστὸν ἁμαρτάνετε.

Therefore, sinning against the brothers and striking their consciousness being weak (here= ‘conscience’?) (is) sinning towards (the) Christ. 

So, we have gone from being a bad example to sinning. There is a definite leap in logic here. And the sin

About << τὴν συνείδησιν >>. I have been rendering this as ‘consciousness’; many of the more modern translations give it as ‘conscience’. I have avoided this translation because I think it’s grossly anachronistic; I am not sure a denizen of the First Century would have understood the word. Socrates had his daimon‘, but I have never really run across the term ‘conscience’. 

Again here, I lean towards ‘consciousness’ because it’s closer to ‘understanding’ than it is to ‘conscience’, IMO. The idea here, I think, is that the ‘weak consciousness’, the ‘weak understanding’ will not understand that just eating idol food doesn’t make one an idol worshiper. 

12 Sic autem peccantes in fratres et percutientes conscientiam eorum infirmam, in Christum peccatis.

13 διόπερ εἰ βρῶμα σκανδαλίζει τὸν ἀδελφόν μου, οὐ μὴ φάγω κρέα εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, ἵνα μὴ τὸν ἀδελφόν μου σκανδαλίσω.

On account of which, if the idol-meat causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat, so that I do not make my brother stumble.

13 Quapropter si esca scandalizat fratrem meum, non manducabo carnem in aeternum, ne fratrem meum scandalizem.

<< Skandalizo >>, despite the sound, actually means ‘stumbling block’. So the concern is still the potential influence on others. Honestly, we have to admire him for his high-mindedness and his concern for others. It’s not Paul’s fault that some of his ideas were over-emphasized by later members of the church.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on March 4, 2014, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. http://pastorrodney.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/1cor8_7-13/

    By happenstance, Paster Rodney put up a post on 8:7-13. I recommend you take a look. His take is more traditionally scriptural, but he has some good insights into this passage.

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