Commentary on Titus and Jude

January 2, 2013
Commentary on First Corinthians
By: Tom Lowe
Topic #7: Questions Concerning Christian Freedom, 1 Corinthians 8.1-11.1

 

 

Lesson 7.1: Knowledge, Love, and Idols
 Scripture: 1 Corinthians 8.1-6


1 Cor 8.1-6 (KJV)

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.
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.


Introduction to Chapter 8

In this chapter, the apostle answers another question posed to him by some of the Corinthians, about eating those things that had been sacrificed to idols. There are two elements to his answer:
1. He implies that he knows there are Christians in Corinth who are offended by other Christians who are eating meat offered to idols; and he cautions them against getting “puffed up” with pride in their personal knowledge.  And then he emphasis the pride and futility of worshipping idols, the unity of the Godhead, and the exclusive mediation of Christ between God and man.
2. He tells them that although they all know that it is lawful to eat food offered to idols (because idols themselves are nothing), nevertheless they must consider the weakness of their Christian brethren, and do nothing that might cause one of them to stumble, and induce them to sin, and lead to their destruction.

The chapter has been divided into two lessons:
Lesson 7.1: Knowledge, Love and Idols, verses 8.1-8.6
Lesson 7.2: Christian Freedom and the Weak Brother, verses 8.7-8.13

 “Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much; Wisdom is humble that he knows no more.”—William Cowper


Commentary

1 Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.

Now as touching things offered unto idols,
Idolatry pervaded almost every aspect of Greek and Roman life. Their social contacts, their feasts, the administration of justice, public entertainment, the offices and honors of government, were all more or less connected with religious services. Christians, therefore, were constantly exposed to the danger of being involved in some idolatrous ritual or worship without even knowing it. This gave rise to numerous perplexing questions of conscience, which were often decided differently by different groups of Christians, and it is one of the factors that caused factions to spring up in the Corinthian Church. Note: Paul also dealt with this matter in his letter to Roman believers—see Romans 14.

Corinth, like all Greek cities, was full of temples housing heathen idols. At their altars animals were constantly sacrificed, and the flesh of those animals was eaten afterwards. The question arose whether a Christian could eat such flesh without committing the sin of showing respect to an idol. The meat offered on pagan altars was usually divided up into three portions: one portion was burnt in honor of the god; one portion was given to the worshipper to take home and eat; and the third portion was given to the priest. If the priest didn't want to eat his portion, he sold it at the temple restaurant or meat market. The meat served and sold at the temple was generally cheaper; and then, as well as now, people loved a bargain (including Christians!). But the issue raises many questions: can we eat meat purchased at the temple meat market? Can a Christian eat at the restaurant at the pagan temple? What if we are served meat purchased at the temple meat market when we are guests in someone's home? Refusing to attend such gatherings would be like not attending weddings or other social functions today.

The phrase “Now as touching” (now concerning, in regard to) indicates that the Corinthians had asked Paul some questions in regard to this matter [we do not know the exact questions], a fact also indicated by the use of quotation marks to set off portions of this verse and in 1 Cor. 8:4 and 1 Cor. 8:5 in the RSV. The Corinthians wrote to the apostle, because they wanted to know his opinion on the matter. It was not the first time the question was asked, because the council at Jerusalem had already decided the matter—[“The Holy Spirit and we have agreed not to place any additional burdens on you. Do only what is necessary…by keeping away from food sacrificed to false gods, from eating bloody meat, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual sins. If you avoid these things, you will be doing what's right” (Acts 15:28-29; GW)], and it was agreed that for the peace of the churches, that the Gentiles be advised to abstain from eating food offered to idols; however, it seems, the church at Corinth knew nothing about it, since the controversy was now raging among them. Some of them (probably Jews) that were weak in the faith, and did not have a clear understanding of Gospel liberty, thought it was criminal and sinful to eat them. There were others (probably Gentiles) who boasted that they had more knowledge, and they would not only eat them privately at home, after buying them from the Heathen priests, or in the common meat markets; but would even go into an idol's temple, and sit and eat them there, which aggravated and confused weak Christians; and what was it that they pled in their defense; their knowledge.

One thing that must not be overlooked in this controversy is the matter of Christian love. The principle of Christian love is that believers should not take part or participate in anything that might cause a weaker brother to stumble: “For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself” (Romans 14:7; KJV). In this sense, spiritually speaking, we are our brother’s keeper, and if eating meat offends our weaker brother, we should not eat meat. Whatever a believer participates in should be done to the glory of God—but it should also be for the prophet, benefit, strengthening, and edification of all believers. “Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Cor 10:14; KJV).

 

Something to Think About

Archaeologists testify that throughout history there have been idols in every culture. Man is created with a need to worship, but when that pursuit for divine communion is misguided, idols are formed. Every idol reminds us of our need to worship. May we remember that there is only One who is worthy of worship.—“Accept No Substitutes,” Rick Warren, Saddleback Church

we know that we all have knowledge.
This was the conceited declaration of those Corinthians who had written to Paul, and asked him these questions which he is in the process of answering. They had evidently indulged themselves in the pagan temples without regard to weak brethren; and the first thing Paul did was to nail down the fact that "knowledge" without love was the grossest ignorance.

I am inclined to think that these are not the apostles words, but a quotation from the letter written by the Corinthians to him, and a proof of what the apostle says below, knowledge puffeth up; but however the words may be understood as to their origin, they contain a general truth, as they relate to Christians of those times, and they may be paraphrased as follows; "All of us who are converted to God by faith in Christ have enough knowledge concerning idols and idol worship; and we also know about the liberty which we have through the Gospel; that we are not bound by Jewish laws, rites, and ceremonies, but there are many who carry their knowledge of this liberty too far, and do that which is neither decent nor fitting, and as a result, they have offended some who have less knowledge than we do.” But knowledge alone will not suffice when dealing with Christian liberty. Paul is about to introduce a much higher principle.

We know. We admit; we cannot deny it, it is as plain as the nose on your face, that no one can be ignorant on this point. They are affirming that they are not ignorant in regard to the nature of idols; they knew that they were nothing at all; and consequently they seemed to infer that it might be right and proper to partake of this food anywhere and everywhere, even in the idol temples themselves: “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” (1 Cor 8:10; KJV). To this Paul replies in the course of the chapter, and particularly in 1 Corinthians 8:7: “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.”
 
That we all have knowledge. That is, on this subject; we are acquainted with the true nature of idols, and of idol worship; we all consider an idol to be nothing, and so, we cannot be in danger of being led into idolatry, or into any improper views in regard to this subject, by participating in the food and feasts connected with idol worship. This is the statement and argument of the Corinthians. Therefore, they were confident that they could eat meats offered to idols, and not be defiled, or hurt in any way by doing it; because they were made aware of the fact that there was nothing common or unclean of itself, and yet they did not think it was proper to make use of their knowledge to avoid grieving and wounding their fellow Christians. To this Paul crafted two answers:
1. That it was not safe to rely on mere knowledge in such a case, since the effect of mere knowledge was often to puff men up and to make them proud, therefore, it would be better if they acted out of "charity or love instead. Christian behavior is founded on love, not knowledge; and the goal of the Christian life is not knowledge, but love.
2. That though most of them might have this knowledge; that there was just one God, there were some who did not, and they might be injured (see 1 Corinthians 8:7), which shows that knowledge is not a safe guide, and that those who had knowledge ought to act in a way that would not injure those who did not have it.

It was Socrates who said, that this one thing he knew, that he knew nothing; but men wise in their own opinions know everything.

knowledge puffeth up,
This is Paul’s reply of to the statement by the Corinthians, that they all had knowledge. The sense is, "Admitting that you all have knowledge; that you know what is the nature of an idol, and of idol worship; yet mere knowledge in this case is not a safe guide; its effect may be to puff up, to fill with pride and self-sufficiency, and to lead you astray. Charity, or love, as well as knowledge, should be allowed to come in as a guide in such cases, and it will be a safer guide than mere knowledge." The knowledge possessed by these men was not “true knowledge”; not that which comes from above; not sanctified knowledge, or that which has the grace of God going along with it; that makes men humble, and will not allow them to be puffed up one against another; but rather a mere show of knowledge, knowledge with conceit in it, mere hypothetical and speculative knowledge, which is lacking in charity or love.

There had been some remarkable proofs of the misjudgment of relying on mere knowledge as a guide in religious matters among the Corinthians, and it was a good idea for Paul to remind them of it. These pretenders to uncommon wisdom had given rise to their factions, disputes, and parties within the church (see chap. 1-3), and now Paul reminds them that it was not safe to rely on such a guide. And it is no safer now than it was then. Mere knowledge, or science, when the heart is not right, fills with pride; swells a man with vain self-confidence and reliance in his own powers, and very often leads him entirely astray. Knowledge combined with right feelings, with pure principles, with a heart filled with love for God and men, may be trusted; but not mere intellectual attainments--mere abstract science--the mere cultivation of the intellect. Unless the heart is cultivated with love, the effect of knowledge is to make a man a nit-picker and a whiner, and it fills him with useless ideas of his own importance; and consequently he is led into error and sin.

Those who brag about their knowledge do it to please their self, and they have an air of superiority. Knowledge blows up like a balloon or like an automobile tire. Love doesn’t blow up, but it fills up. Love for God and love for others should determine our conduct. Knowledge alone puffs up and tends to make us vain, conceited, and harsh in our dealings with others. This is a danger with a great many folk who feel that they have a lot of knowledge and yet in reality they know very little. Paul is saying that we have certain knowledge and, because of that certain knowledge, our behavior is governed by it.

Well, I don’t care what stage of spiritual development you are in today, you don’t know everything about any subject—and I don’t either. All of us are in the learning process. Paul could say of himself, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings …” (Phil. 3:10). It is the knowledge of Christ which we need above everything else.

 

Knowledge

Sculptors in ancient Rome were wise to the disloyalty of their citizenry. Because heroes were so frequently discarded, they put detachable heads on their heroic statues so heads could be easily replaced when heroes were replaced.—San Antonio Express-News, Feb. 21, 1997, p. 9G

but charity edifieth.
That is, a man that has knowledge, joined with love for God and his fellow Christians, will seek for that which makes for the edification of others; and without this all his knowledge will be of no avail, and he himself will be nothing. On the other hand, love (Gr agapē) edifies. That is, it does not terminate upon itself as knowledge does, but goes beyond to seek the well-being of others. And it is this incomparably higher principle which the apostle applies to this case.

It is evident that Paul's questioners did not refer to themselves (they already knew everything), but "they wanted to know how to deal with the people who refused to eat meat sacrificed to idols." Despite this conceit, some of them were actually "dinning in an idol's temple"!—“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” (1 Cor 8:10; KJV). As some would say today, they were bringing their "culture" into the church!

Charity means love, so it would be well to translate it that way. Our word charity is now applied almost exclusively to giving. The dictionary has this meaning: “generous actions or donations to aid the poor, ill, or helpless.”  The word “love” in the Scriptures means “the high esteem that God has for His human children and the high regard which they, in turn, should have for Him and other people.” The sense here is, "Knowledge is not a safe guide, and should not be trusted. Love for each other and to God, true Christian affection, will be a safer guide than mere knowledge. The doctrine is that love for God and for each other is a better guide in determining what to do than mere knowledge. It will prompt us to seek the welfare of others ahead of our own, and to avoid what would injure them. It will make us tender, affectionate, and kind; and will better tell us what to do, and how to do it in the best way, than all the abstract knowledge that is conceivable. The man who is influenced by love is not in much danger of going astray, or of doing harm to the cause of God. Paul was wise in recommending that the question should be settled by love; and it would be wise if all Christians would follow his instructions.

Knowledge puffs up; but it only says, “All things are lawful for me, but all things do not edify”: “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not” (1 Cor 10:23; KJV); but love edifies. Both knowledge and love have an effect on our lives; both of them make something grow. The difference between puffs up and edifies is striking; it is the difference between a bubble and a building. Some Christians grow, others just swell!

God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. The way to advance in God’s program is to be humble, not to be “blown up.”

2 And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.

And if any man think that he knoweth any thing,
“Any thing” is used here to represent any matter pertaining to science, morals, philosophy, or religion; and the conjunction “And” is not found in the oldest manuscripts. The Greek word which is translated here as “knoweth” means we know or are aware and it implies a personal experimental acquaintance, not merely knowledge of a fact. The verse is a general saying which can be applied to all who are mere pretenders to knowledge. It describes a person who has an unrealistic opinion of himself, or is conceited with his own knowledge, and imagines that he knows more than he does; which is always the case with those who revel in their concocted knowledge, and treat others, that they think are inferior to them, with contempt. All earthly knowledge is partial and fragmentary. There is a saying that asserts, "Knowledge is proud that it has learned so much. Wisdom is humble that it knows no more." In thinking that they knew everything while at the same time despising the brethren they considered ignorant, the Corinthians definitely showed that they did not know as much as they should have known. Paul’s intention was to condemn that vain conceit of knowledge, or self-confidence, which would lead us to despise others, or to disregard their interests. "If anyone’s conceit over his knowledge, is so vain, and proud, and self-confident, that he is led to despise others, and to disregard their opinions and interests, he has not yet learned the very first elements of true knowledge as he ought to have learned them. True knowledge will make us humble, modest, and kind to others. It will not puff us up, and it will not lead us to overlook the happiness of others." “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (Romans 11:25; KJV). Keep in mind that, Paul is writing to Christians, who he would later call babies, because they could not understand the deep things of God’s word. He said he had to feed them milk, because they, like babies, could not digest meat.

The first step to knowledge is to know our own ignorance. Without love there is only the appearance of knowledge.

he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.
Paul is saying that he does not know what he should know, because if he did, he would know this; that he should desire the peace, comfort, and edification of his brother; and therefore whatever level of knowledge he may imagine he has arrived at, or whatever he may be capable of, and obtain in the future, for the present he must realize that he knows far less than he thinks he does; because he does not know the duty he owes to God and to man; if he knew the former, he would know the latter.

He may have a general knowledge of the vanity of idolatry, and the liberty from Jewish rites which the Gospel affords; but in spite of his knowledge he does not know this; that although the first and greatest commandment says, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and second is like it: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. He may meet the requirements of the first part, but he is a failure when it comes to loving his neighbor. He can torment his neighbor’s weak or tender conscience with his food or his conduct without feeling he has done anything wrong, because he does not love him as much as he loves himself, and therefore he knows nothing as well as he ought to know it.

He does not know the true purpose of knowledge, which is to edify and promote the happiness of others. If a man has not learned how to contribute to the happiness of others, it is proof that he has never learned the true objective of knowledge. Paul's intention is to induce them to seek the welfare of their brethren. Knowledge, when applied in the right way, will promote the happiness of all. And it is as true now as it was then, that if a man is as miserly with his knowledge, as he is with his wealth; if he lives to accumulate, and never to pass on; if he is filled with pride for his wisdom, and he does not desire to benefit others by enlightening their ignorance, and guiding them in the way of truth, he has never learned the true use of science, any more than the man has of wealth who always hoards, and never gives. It is valueless unless it is diffused, the same as the sun would be valueless unless it diffused its rays all over the world, and the waters would be valueless if they were always preserved in lakes and reservoirs, and never diffused over hills and valleys to refresh the earth.

Knowledge, or at least having a lot of pride in it, is very apt to swell the mind, to fill it with wind, and to puff it up. It tends to do some harm to our image and reputation, but in many instances it causes greater hurt to others. But true love, and a tender regard for our brethren, will put our minds to work for their best interest, and ourselves to work for their edification.

Observe, there is no evidence of ignorance more common than a conceit over knowledge: If any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. He that knows the most understands his own ignorance, and the imperfection of human knowledge. He that imagines himself to be a wise man, and is vain and conceited in this imagination, has reason to suspect that he knows nothing accurately, nothing as he ought to know it. Note, it is one thing to know truth, and another to know it as we ought to, and so it is our duty to improve our knowledge; but if a man simply acquires knowledge components, he is a seriously defective person. Yet, there is a knowledge that is important: the knowledge God has of those who love Him (if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him). There is another knowledge that is important: the knowledge we have of God and His WORD. Unfortunately, as long as we remain in this world, our knowledge of Him is only partial. But true knowledge leads to God, and Paul knew that true love for Him must flow out in love for others.

True knowledge is free from Pride. The self-satisfied pride of the Corinthian believers seems to have made some of them feel that they had attained complete knowledge. They acted like what we would call a “know-it-all.” They were attempting to teach, when they needed to be taught. The believer, who is in most cases, ready to instruct others, has only superficial knowledge: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness” (1 Cor 3:19; KJV). These Corinthians are all dead, but we have some of the same kind of people in our churches today.

3 But if any man love God, the same is known of him.

But if any man love God,
If any man is truly in love with God, as he should be; that is, if he loves God with his complete mind, spirit, and soul, if he seeks to serve Him and to promote his glory; he is known and loved by Him. The meaning seems to be this: "There is no true and real knowledge which is not connected with love for God. This will prompt a man to love his brethren, and will lead him to promote their happiness. A man's life, therefore, is not to be regulated by mere knowledge, but the grand principle of life is to love God and to love man. Love enlightens, informs, educates, and improves; love promotes happiness; love will induce a man to do what is right; and love will secure the approval of God." A man should not be guided in his relationships with other men by mere knowledge, however great that knowledge may be; but a better guide is love, whether exercised towards God or man. Under the guidance of love, man would be in little danger of making an error in judgment. Under the direction of mere knowledge, he would never be sure of having a safe guide, because he would always wonder if he knew enough. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another”… “No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.”… “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 4:11, 12, 20; KJV). Also see 1 Corinthians 13.

The principle here is “We ought to be ruled by love rather than knowledge.”

the same is known of him.
The words "is known," is to be understood here in the sense of "is approved of by God; is loved by him; is highly regarded by God," etc. The word “known” is often used in this sense in the Scriptures. The sense is, "If any man acts under the influence of his love for God, and love for man, he will meet with the approval of God. He will seek His glory, and the well being of his brethren; he will likely do the right thing; and God will approve of his intentions and desires, and will regard him as His child. There may be little to distinguish him in the estimation of the world, since he has little in the way of human knowledge, which puffs up men with vain self-confidence, nevertheless he will have a truly elevated rank, and will receive the approval and praise of God. This is of more value than mere knowledge, and this love is a better guide than any mere intellectual achievement. The person who loves God has found the truth, and also has discovered that he or she can’t be God and know all the answers, because our knowledge of God is always partial: “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part” (1 Cor 13:9;KJV). To love God is to submit to Him. Love for God, then, naturally leads to love for other believers.
• “The LORD is good. {He is} a fortress in the day of trouble. He knows those who seek shelter in him” (Nahum 1:7; GW).
•  “…The Lord knoweth them that are his…” (2 Tim 2:19; KJV).

The true knowledge of God does not come about through the acquisition of information concerning Him. It comes through loving Him. To love is to know and to be known. This is the precise sentiment of 1 John 4.7-8: “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God… He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” Love is essential to knowledge. Whoever loves God, knows God; he is taught by Him, made to know more by Him; such a person increases in spiritual knowledge, and is beloved by God: God takes a special notice of him, manifests his love for him, and He will acknowledge him on Judgment Day, when proud, haughty, overbearing, and hard hearted professors, will be rejected by him: “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt 7:23; KJV). As Morris said, "The really important thing is not that we know God, but that he knows us!"

Love and knowledge must go together. It has been said, “Truth without love is brutality, but love without truth is hypocrisy.” Knowledge is power and it must be used in love. But love must always be controlled by knowledge: “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment…That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ…Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God” (Phil 1:9-11; KJV). The strong believers in the Corinthian church had knowledge, but they were not using their knowledge in love. Instead of building up the weak saints, the strong Christians were only puffing up themselves. The love of God in ones heart never begets pride of knowledge. The more completely we are controlled by the Spirit of God, and permeated by the love of God, the more humble we are. The love of God within us enables us to walk humbly before him. Love is the essence of Christianity; knowledge is secondary. One who possesses true knowledge of God and His word loves God and his word even more.

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.

As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols,
Paul had got off the subject he introduced in the first verse of the chapter, and in verses 2 and 3 he commented on intellectual Knowledge, and now he returns to the subject being debated by the Corinthians. The question was, whether it was right for Christians to eat the meat of animals that had been slain in sacrifice to idols. Here the question is expanded somewhat from what it was in 1 Corinthians 8:1, but it is substantially the same inquiry.

In the heathen festivals and sacrifices, portions were given to the priest who made the sacrifice to the idol. True believers recognized the fact that all of this was nothing but emptiness and vanity; but even though the believers in Corinth knew this, that did not settle the questions that were in their minds—questions that brought about divisions among believers.

The Jews had rules to govern those things offered to idols, which may be expressed as follows:
1. No one is to profit in any way from anything offered to an idol.
2. It is forbidden to profit from animal sacrifices; even its dung, and its bones, and its horns, and its hoofs, and its skin, are forbid to be of any profit.
3. Flesh, wine, and fruits, which are brought into the temple to be offered up to idols, are not forbidden for profit; that is, they can be sold or taken for personal consumption. But once they are offered to an idol they become an offering, and they cannot profit anyone.
4. All that is found in an idol's temple, even water and salt, are forbidden for profit by the law, "and he that eats anything thereof is to be beaten.''
5. An Israelite that lifts up a cheese, and does not worship it, but a Gentile does worships it; it is forbidden for profit, because the lifting up of the cheese is an action; and if he lifts up an egg, and a Gentile comes and worships it, it is forbidden; he that cuts a gourd, or any such thing, and worships it, it is forbidden.

Before it could be determined whether it was proper to eat from these sacrifices, two issues had to be settled; first, what an idol is must be resolved; and secondly, what effect the eating would have. As for idols, Paul says there is no idol (or that an idol is nothing in the world,); and as for the eating, he says it could have no effect on our religious condition—it could make us neither better nor worse: “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” (1 Cor 8:8; KJV). After you have come to Christ, after you know the Word of God, you know that an idol is nothing. That is the way Paul spoke of idols—they are nothing. There is only one God. So he says that the meat that was offered to the idol was not affected. Nothing happened to it. It was not contaminated. In fact, it was prime meat. So the enlightened Christian could go to the temple to buy his meat and eat it with no reservations, because Christians are not bound by the Old Testament Laws regarding eating meat offered to idols.  Nevertheless, if our eating causes other people to sin, we should not eat.

Of course, the world was full of idols; but, as Wesley said: Idol here does not mean a mere image; but, by an inevitable transition of thought, the deity worshiped in the image. By this, Paul says that Zeus, Apollo, etc., have no existence; they are not to be found in the world. 

we know that an idol is nothing in the world,
“We know,” that is, we Corinthians know; and Paul seems to admit that they had all the knowledge which they claimed—“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” (1 Cor 8:7; KJV). (Also see 1 Corinthians 8:1.)—but his object was to show that even admitting that, it would not follow that it would be right to partake of that meat. It is well to bear in mind that the object of their statement in regard to knowledge was to show that there could be no impropriety in partaking of the food. The apostle answers this argument in 1 Corinthians 8:7.

The first thing Paul establishes is that “an idol is nothing.” Any thinking person knows that since there is “none other God but one,” if a person offers a sacrifice to an idol, he is, in fact, sacrificing to a nonentity. While we know that in the pagan world there are those “that are called gods,” “we know that an idol is nothing in the world.” Although an idol is made from a material created by God (gold, silver, brass, wood, iron, etc.), which is something, nevertheless it has the form of a man or an animal or some imagined thing that is supposed to represent God, it is nothing, because there can be no representation of the invisible God; it is nothing, that is, it has no divinity in it, it is no God. Though it may have an existence, like the sun, moon, and stars, yet it is not divine; and in that sense it is nothing. The apostle is speaking the language of the Jewish doctors, who say, “Why dost thou envy an idol, since it is nothing, or there is nothing to it.” And the Rabbis say, since "there is nothing in an idol, why do they call them deities.'' It is very likely the apostle may have reference to “Mylyla,” the Hebrew word for idols, which signifies things of nought (nothing), that are good for nothing, are of no value, and are as nothing—“In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats” (Isaiah 2:20; KJV). An Idol Is not the true God; it is not a proper object of worship. We are not so stupid that we would suppose that the block of wood, or the carved image, or the chiseled marble has real intelligence, and is attentive and capable of receiving worship, or benefiting its followers. We fully admit, and know, that the whole thing is make-believe; and there can be no danger that, by partaking of the food offered in sacrifice to them, we should ever be brought to a belief of the stupendous falsehood that they are true objects of worship, or to deny the true God. There is no doubt that the more intelligent heathen had this knowledge; and doubtless nearly all Christians possessed it, though a few who had been educated in the grosser views of heathenism might still have regarded the idol with a superstitious reverence. Since whatever might have been the knowledge of statesmen and philosophers on the subject, it was still almost certainly true that the great mass of the heathen world did regard the dumb idols as the proper objects of worship, and supposed that they were inhabited by invisible spirits--the gods. For purposes of government, and policy, the lawgivers and priests of the pagan world were careful to cherish this delusion. See 1 Corinthians 8:7.

The sophisticated arguments of the "knowledge" party in Corinth are apparently involved in this controversy. Since idols had no existence in fact, they felt safe in ignoring the popular superstitions regarding them; and Paul allowed the argument to stand, for the moment, since it was certainly true that there is no God but one, and that an idol actually had no existence in reality. However, although Paul did not recognize idols "as having any real existence, even as false deities," he was certain that evil spirits and demons exist, and that in reality these were behind the idols and were using them to seduce men from the worship of the true God—“But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devil” (1 Cor 10:20; KJV).

Furthermore, Paul does not by his statement that they are “not in the world” leave any room for the thought that they may be anywhere else, because the "world" as used here refers to the whole universe. An idol is nothing at all; it has no power over the world; no real existence anywhere. There are no such gods as the heathens pretend to worship. There is but one God; and that fact is known to all of us. The phrase "in the world" seems to be added by way of emphasis, to show the utter nothingness of idols; to explain in the most emphatic manner the belief that they had no real existence: “Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you” (Isaiah 41:24; KJV).

and that there is none other God but one.
This clause may be considered either as a reason for why an idol is nothing; is no deity, is no God, because “there is none other God but one"; or as a part of what believers know, since they know an idol is nothing; so they know, both from reason and revelation, from the books of the Old and New Testament, that there is but one God, and consequently that idols are nothing, and that they cannot defile them, nor anything that is offered to them.

The true God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Old Testament and of the Christian scriptures. He alone is God in the true sense. He alone may rightfully be worshiped, and all worship of Him must be in the name of and through his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. “And that there is none other God but one,” was a great cardinal truth of religion: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD…And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deut 6:4-5; KJV). To keep this great truth in mind was the grand object of the Jewish religion; and this was so simple and important, that the Corinthians thought that it must be known by all.

But what about Biblical passages which some say suggests that there are other gods? For example, in John 10:34, Jesus quotes Psalm 82:8-9, in saying You are gods. But the judges of Psalm 82 were called "gods" because in their office they determined the fate of other men. Also, in Exodus 21:6 and 22:8-9, God calls earthly judges "gods." In John 10, Jesus is saying "if God gives these unjust judges the title 'gods' because of their office, why do you consider it blasphemy that I call Myself the 'Son of God' in light of the testimony of Me and My works?" Jesus is not taking the you are gods of Psalm 82 and applying it to all humanity, or to all believers. The use of gods in Psalm 82 was a figure of speech.

In 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul calls Satan the god of this age. Certainly, he does not mean that Satan is a true god, a rival god to the Lord God. Satan can be called the god of this age because he is regarded as a god by so many people! Heathen idols are not gods, and they are not 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 true 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; therefore, eating food sacrificed to idols was, in itself, inconsequential.

5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)

For though there be that are called gods,
The significant word here is “called,” or rather so called, indicating that the heathen gods, which are represented by idols, are not gods at all. They are gods by name, though not by nature; angels and magistrates who are called gods in Scripture, and many images that are supposed to be representations of divinities: but these divinities are nothing, the figments of someone’s imagination; and these images have no corresponding realities.

Paul acknowledged that many people believed the gods were real. Idolatry takes away from God the worship He is due. Satan is behind all attempts to thwart God; therefore, the power behind idolatry is the demons, the gods and lords of the spirit world: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph 6:12; KJV). Demons exist, but they are subordinate to the one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live. God created everything—even the metal, wood, and stone from which people fashion their idols. The pagans divided creation up among the various gods who ruled their own spheres, but the one true God created everything. Those who believe in Him live their lives for Him and His glory.

whether in heaven or in earth,
“Whether in heaven,” means residing in heaven, as a part of the gods were supposed to do. Perhaps the apostle is alluding to the sun, moon, and stars; but I believe this is a reference to the celestial deities, or to those mythical gods who were supposed to reside in heaven, although they were said to occasionally visit the earth; such as the Greek gods Jupiter, Juno, Mercury, etc.

“Or in earth,” is better rendered Upon the earth; or that reigned over the earth, or sea; such as the mythical gods Ceres and Neptune. The ancient heathens worshipped some gods that were supposed to dwell in heaven; others that were supposed to reside on earth; and others that presided over the inferior regions, such as Pluto, the god of the underworld; Hades.

as there be gods many,
There were gods almost without number, which were worshipped by the Egyptians, Grecians, Romans, and others; even among the Jews, there were some who fell into idolatry; their gods were according to the number of their cities: “But where are thy gods that thou hast made thee? let them arise, if they can save thee in the time of thy trouble: for according to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah” (Jer 2:28; KJV). Among heathen nations every city had its protective deity. Judah, after sinking far into idolatry, had adopted this custom. “As there are many gods and many lords” refers to the so-called gods. Indeed, in the ancient world, there were many, many different gods—and even gods known as the unknown god to cover any gods one might have missed! Paul said, “For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you” (Acts 17:23; KJV). There were many gods; but they were falsely called that. The heathens had many such gods, some in heaven and some on earth, celestial deities that were of the highest rank and terrestrial ones, men made into gods, that were to mediate for men with the celestial gods, and were appointed by them to preside over earthly affairs. These are commonly called Baalim in scripture. They had gods of higher and lower degree and many in each order; but all of them were imaginary deities and mediators: so called gods, but not such in truth. All their divinity and mediation were imagery. The emphasis should be placed on the word “many;” and the intention of the apostle is to show that the number of these that were worshipped was not a few, but was immense; and that they were in fact worshipped as gods, and allowed to have influence over their minds and lives which they would have if they were real; that is, that the effect of this popular belief was to produce just as much fear, alarm, superstition, and corruption, as they would have if these imaginary gods had a real existence. Although the more intelligent of the heathen put no confidence in them, yet the effect on the great mass of the heathen was the same as if they had had a real existence, and exerted real control over them.

The multiple names of pagan mythology illustrate the truth Paul mentioned regarding gods many and lords many; but the very fact of their being thought of as operating only in heaven or only on earth proved that none of them controlled "all things," and so the fragmented nature of deity was overlooked or misunderstood in paganism.

and lords many,
The lords were those who ruled over them; to whom they submitted themselves; and whose laws they obeyed. This name lord was also often given to their idol gods. Thus among the nations of Canaan their idols were called lord, Baal Peor, (Numbers 25:3); Baal Zephon, (Exodus 14:2); Baal Zebub, (2 Kings 1:2); Baal Berith, (Judges 8:33); and Baalim, the guardian god of the Phoenicians and Syrians: “And it came to pass, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children of Israel turned again, and went a whoring after Baalim, and made Baalberith their god” (Judges 8:33; KJV). Grosheide distinguished between the so-called deities of the pagans and their "heroes or demigods"; but the terms are considered here to be synonymous.

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.


But to us there is but one God, the Father,
This is one thing that Christians and Jews agree upon , that there is only one God; which is clear from the writings of the Old and New Testament: so that to us believers this point is not in doubt. Whatever the heathen worship, we know that there is only one God; and he alone has a right to rule over us. But, as for who this one God is the Gentiles didn’t know, and the Jews are very ignorant of it; but we Christians know him to be "the Father"; by whom we mean the one God; Father, Son, and Spirit, called the Father, not in relation to any person in the Godhead, but in relation to the creatures he has created: so this one God; Father, Son, and Spirit, is the Father of spirits, the creator of angels, and the souls of men, the God of all flesh, the Father of all the individuals with a human nature, the Father or author of all the mercies and blessings the children of men enjoy. Or else, when he is considered personally, he is the first person in the Godhead, who is called “Father” because of his relationship to his Son, who is the only begotten of the Father. And when he is said to be the one God, it must be understood that the Son and Spirit are not excluded; because if the Son is excluded in this clause from being the one God with the Father, by the same rule of interpretation, the Father, must be excluded in the next clause from being the one Lord with Christ; but in the same way that dominion or lordship belongs to the Father, deity belongs to the Son, and also to the Spirit.

“There is but one God.” That is, only one being who is eternal, self-existing, and almighty; who produced all things, the lone exception being he. All intelligent beings have been created by him for the purpose of manifesting his glory, by receiving and reflecting his wisdom, goodness, and truth. There is no limitation with God, who cannot be localized like the false gods of the pagans. He is the Creator and sustainer of all things in heaven and upon earth.

This one God is, first, the Father; not the first person of the Trinity, but our father. The word, as it is used here does not express the relationship of the first to the second person in the Godhead, but the relationship of God as God, to us as his children. When we say, “Our Father in heaven,” the word “Father” designates the Supreme Being, the Triune Jehovah. The apostle speaks of God, as having the Divine nature, the one infinitely holy Being, who sustains the relation of Father to his creatures. He produced them. He provides for them. He protects them, as a father does his children. He works for their welfare; pities them in their sorrows; sustains them as they pass through trials; shows himself to be their friend. The name Father is given frequently to God, since it is appropriate to the one God, the Divine Being. In other places it is applied to the first person of the Trinity as distinguished from the second; and in these instances the corresponding “Son” is used.

Of whom are all things,
“Of whom” points back to “God, the Father” in the previous clause. He is the Creator, from whom all things derive their existence: “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3; KJV). He is the great source of all things; and all things depend on him. It was by his purpose and power that all things were formed, and he sustains the relation of a Father to all he created. The agent in producing all things, however, was the Son: “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins…Who is the image of the invisible God…For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him” (Col 1:14-16; KJV). All created beings and things were produced by him; angels were created by him, to serve and worship him; devils were created by him, but they are under him, and at his control, though they have rebelled against him; all mankind are his creations, his offspring; the whole universe, the heavens, the earth, and seas, and all that are in them, were created by him; all things in nature, providence, grace, and glory, come from him: he is the author of every mercy, worldly and spiritual. Everything has thus been formed in accordance with his plan; and all things now depend on him as their Father. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen 1:1; KJV).

And we in him;
We refers to “we Christians.” We are what we are because of him. We owe our existence to him; and we have been regenerated and saved by him. The chief idea here is, probably, that Christians owe their hopes and happiness to God.

“In him” may be rendered unto him or for him: that is, we are formed for him, we live in him and by him, and should live to bring glory to him. We have been made what we are, as Christians, so that we may promote his honor and glory.

“And we in him,” in this case, seems to refer to what believers are, as new creatures; they are in God; they are interested in him as their covenant God, and in his everlasting love; they are engraved on his hands, and set as a seal on his heart; they are "into him", as it may be rendered in the language of the twenty-first century; they are brought near to him, and placed in communion with him; and are "for him.”

And one Lord Jesus Christ,
For the Christian there can be only one Lord, not to the exclusion of the Father and Spirit, but in contrast to the "many lords" whom the heathens worshipped. The word Lord is used here in the sense of proprietor, ruler, governor, or king; and the idea is, that Christians acknowledge subjection to him alone, and not to many gods, as the heathens did. Jesus Christ is the Ruler and Lord of his people. They acknowledge their allegiance to him as their supreme Lawgiver and King. They do not acknowledge subjection to many rulers, whether imaginary gods or men; but receive their laws from him alone. The word "Lord," as it is used here does not imply any inferiority to God; since it is a term which is frequently applied to God himself. The idea in the passage is, that from God, the Father of all, we derive our existence, and all that we have; and that we acknowledge immediate and direct subjection to the Lord Jesus as our Lawgiver and supreme ruler. He is God over all, the Creator and Former of all things; and he is Mediator between God and Man, having all power, dominion, and government put into his hands: he is, in a special sense, the one Lord of his people, and is made that by the right of marriage to them; by the right of the redemption of them; through his being a head unto them, and King of them; and by a voluntary surrender of themselves to him, rejecting all other lords, as sin, Satan, and the world, who have formerly had dominion over them, they acknowledge him to be their one and only Lord. From him Christians receive their laws, and to him they submit their lives. And this idea is so far from the assumption that the Lord Jesus is inferior to God, that it does just the opposite, and presumes equality with God; since a right to give laws to men, to rule their consciences, to direct their religious opinions, and their lives, can appropriately pertain only to one who has equality with God.

Note, Jesus Christ is called "God" no less than ten times in the Greek New Testament. When Paul calls Jesus Lord, he uses the Greek word kurios, and this word would have meant something to Bible reading people in Paul's day. Leon Morris has this to say about “Lord”: "This term could be no more than a polite form of address like our 'Sir.' But it could also be used for the deity one worships. The really significant background, though, is its use in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to render the divine name, Yahweh. . . . Christians who used this as their Bible would be familiar with the term as equivalent to deity."

by whom are all things,
“By whom,” means by whose authority; or through whom, as the producer. The word "by" stands in  contrast to "of" in the second clause of the verse; and obviously means, that though "all things" derived their existence from God, who is the Fountain and Author of them, yet they come to us "by" the ministry or actions of the Lord Jesus. This doctrine, that the Son of God was the great agent in the creation of the world, is taught elsewhere in the Scriptures: “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3; KJV).
 
“Are all things” refers to the universe; no words could better express the idea of the universe than these; and the declaration is therefore unmistakable, that the Lord Jesus created all things. Some explain that this is a reference to the "new creation," as if Paul had said that all things pertaining to our salvation were from him. But the objections to this interpretation are obvious:
(1.) It is not the natural meaning.
(2.) The phrase "all things" naturally denotes the universe.
(3.) The context of the passage requires that we understand that it refers to the universe. Paul is not speaking of the new creature; but he is speaking of the question whether there is more than one God, one Creator, one Ruler, over the wide universe. The heathen said there was; Christians disagreed.  The scope, therefore, of the passage requires us to interpret it to be the vast material universe; and the obvious assertion here is, that the Lord Jesus was the Creator of it all: everything in nature; all the created beings of this, or the other world, whether visible or invisible, thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, are by him; no creature was made without him; and added to that is grace, our election, redemption, reconciliation, pardon, justification, and everlasting glory and happiness.

And we by him.
We are redeemed by him from sin, Satan, the law, death, and hell; we are by him as far as what we have become, as Christians, as believers in him; by him we have access to the Father, and fellowship with him; by him we are governed, influenced, protected, and preserved for his kingdom and glory; and by him we are, and shall be, saved with an everlasting salvation. We were redeemed by him, and we are brought to God by him. We Christians or, we as men have derived our existence "by" or through him; this applies to our original creation and to our new creation, where we are placed in him. Probably the idea is, that all that we have, as men and as Christians, our lives and our hopes, are through him, and by his agency.

“And we,” have been brought to the knowledge of the true God by him, by the revelation of Jesus Christ; because it is the only begotten Son alone that can reveal the Father. The gods of whom the apostle speaks were their divinities, or objects of religious worship; the lords were the rulers of the world, such as emperors, who were considered next to gods, and some of them were deified. In opposition to those gods he places GOD the Father, the fountain of abundance and being; and in opposition to the lords he places Jesus Christ, who made and who governs all things. We, as creatures, live because of God the Father, who is the fountain of our being: and, as Christians, we live by or through Jesus Christ; by whom we are bought, enlightened, pardoned, and saved and "for whom we exist."

Paul had said, in respect to God the Father of all that we were in him; he says here that in regard to the Lord Jesus, we are by him, or by his agency. The sense is, "God is the author, the former of the plan; the source of being and of hope; and we are to live to honor him: but Jesus is the agent by whom all these things are made, and through whom they are conferred on us."

 

Do you have any questions or comments?

 A Nashville bumper sticker shared this sentiment on love: “Do You Believe in Love at First Sight or Shall I Drive By Again?”

Reader’s Digest, Oct. 1998, p. 127

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