1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Submitted by admin on Tue, 2009-07-21 13:12.

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Regarding food offered to idols, believers had the “knowledge” that idols were powerless, lifeless representations. This knowledge in itself did not assure right conduct, for, as Paul continued, “Knowledge inflates, but love builds up.” One who has certain knowledge may look down on others as ignorant, and so knowledge can breed conceit and contempt. Love, on the other hand, is reflected in a kindly view of fellow humans and a compassionate regard for their limitations. The loving person does not make others feel low and despised but builds them up, showing consideration for their feelings and treating them as valued people. (8:1)

If individuals imagine they know something (without being guided by love), they do not know it as they should. Apart from love (a selfless interest in the happiness and welfare of fellow humans), knowledge can be hurtful, with its possessors assuming an arrogant bearing toward others, treating them in a contemptuous manner, or failing to consider their feelings and limitations. (8:2)

“But if anyone loves God, this [person] is known by him.” God acknowledges as his own only those who love him, and this love is demonstrated by treating others in a loving manner. In the case of believers, this especially requires demonstrating love for fellow children of God. (8:3; see the Notes section.)

Continuing to comment about eating food offered to idols, Paul added, “We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is but one God.” Representations of deities are lifeless objects of human manufacture and cannot produce any change in meat or any other food from an offering. The deities that the lifeless images represent are nonexistent, for there is only one living God. (8:4)

In the Greco-Roman world, there were many so-called gods, “whether in heaven or on earth.” Among millions today, this is still the case. Many who have no knowledge of the true God (or do not recognize him) revere deities which they believe to exist in the earthly and the superterrestrial realms. (8:5)

Although there are “many gods and many lords,” followers of Christ recognize only “one God, the Father, from whom all things are and we for him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are and we through him.” The Father is the ultimate source of everything. Believers live for him. Jesus Christ, their Lord, is the one through whom the Father brought everything into being. The concluding phrase (“and we through him”) could point to the fact that believers owe their identity as children of God to Christ. They are what they are through Jesus Christ and what he accomplished when dying sacrificially. (8:5, 6)

In the first century, many did not know or recognize that an idol was a nothing thing and that only one true God existed. Before becoming believers, certain ones among the Corinthians when eating food offered to idols had done so with a worshipful regard for the idol. Even though they had become disciples of God’s Son, they still had a weak conscience, one that was defiled because they had formerly been conditioned to believe in the existence of the deity that the idol represented. For this reason, they could not eat any food that had once been offered to an idol without the feelings and thoughts associated with their past life as idolaters. (8:7)

“But food will not make us stand before [parístemi] God.” The Greek word parístemi can signify to “stand before,” “place beside,” “bring before,” or “present.” The thought could be that food will not bring one closer to God. Another possibility is that food will not bring one before God so as to be judged on that basis. The reason food would neither bring one nearer to God or cause one to stand before him for judgment is because the act of eating a certain food has no bearing on one’s relationship with him. Paul added, “If we do not eat, we are not worse off; if we eat, we are not better off.” (8:8)

Whereas eating or refraining from eating certain food was immaterial, this did not mean one did not need to be considerate of others. The apostle admonished the Corinthians to watch or to exercise care that they did not make use of their “authority” or right to eat certain food in a way that could result in putting an obstacle before those with a weak conscience, causing them to sin. (8:9)

If a believer with a weak conscience observed a fellow believer who had “knowledge” (the specific knowledge that an idol was a nothing thing that could not in any way make food different because of having been part of an offering) eating a meal at an “idol temple” (probably meaning one of the dining rooms in the temple courtyard), this could be spiritually ruinous to the one with a weak conscience. It could encourage him to the point of actually eating food offered to idols. His previous idolatrous conditioning would bring back the same thoughts and feelings he had before he became a believer, and his eating would then prove to be an idolatrous act. (8:10)

In this way, the other individual’s “knowledge” (without the guidance of love) would have brought ruin to the one with a weak conscience. This would have been very serious. The believer who failed to take the weak conscience of a fellow believer into consideration would have made himself responsible for causing his brother to sin, a brother for whom Christ died. The brother with the weak conscience belonged to Christ and was very precious to him. (8:11)

If any of the Corinthians thus sinned against their brothers and wounded their weak consciences, they would have made themselves guilty of sinning against Christ. The brothers with weak consciences were fellow children of God and members of the body of which Christ is the head. (8:12; see the Notes section.)

Pointing to his own course of action, Paul highlighted the right course to take. If food could cause his brother to stumble, being led to commit sin, he would never again eat meat. Out of loving concern for the spiritual well-being of his brother, a fellow member of God’s family, the apostle would willingly forgo what he had the right to do. (8:13)


The oldest extant manuscript (P46) contains an abbreviated version of 1 Corinthians 8:3, “But if anyone loves, this one is known.”

In 1 Corinthians 8:12, the oldest extant Greek manuscript (P46) does not include the word for “weak” when mentioning the conscience.