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Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians Hodge's Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Hodge, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8". Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ hdg/ 1-corinthians-8.html.
Hodge, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8". Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians. https://studylight.org/
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Eating of sacrifices offered to idols is not in itself wrong, 1 Corinthians 8:1-7. But it should be avoided if it gave offense, 1 Corinthians 8:8-13.
On Eating of Sacrifices — 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
The second subject on which the Corinthians had requested the advice of the apostle was the lawfulness of eating of the sacrifices offered to idols. To the discussion of that question in its different aspects the eighth, ninth and tenth chapters of this epistle are principally devoted. At the council of Jerusalem it was decided by the apostles, elders and brethren, that the Gentile converts should abstain “from meat offered to idols, from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication,” Acts 15:29; and this decree was referred to the Holy Ghost as its author, Acts 15:28. Yet Paul, though present in that council, not only does not refer to it, but goes directly against it. That decree forbade the eating of meat offered to idols; Paul, in 1 Corinthians 10, tells the Corinthians that when exposed for sale in the market, or found on private tables, they might eat it without scruple. These facts do not prove any discrepancy between the apostles gathered in Jerusalem and Paul; nor that the decisions of that council were not obligatory on the church. They only serve to explain the true intent and meaning of those decisions. They show, 1. That there was no permanent moral ground for the prohibition of meat offered to idols. 2. That the ground of the prohibition being expediency, it was of necessity temporary and limited. It had reference to Christians in the midst of those to whom eating such meat was an abomination. It, therefore, ceased to be binding whenever and wherever the grounds of the prohibition did not exist. It is analogous to Paul’s condemnation of women appearing in church without a veil. The decisions of that council, therefore, were no barrier to Paul’s discussing the question on its merits. In this chapter the subject is viewed in two aspects; first, considered in itself; and secondly, in its bearing on the weaker or less enlightened class of Christians. Most of the questions which disturbed the early church had their origin in the conflicting prepossessions and prejudices of the Jewish and Gentile converts; or at least, of the more and less enlightened of the Christian converts. For it is probable that many of those who had been educated as heathen belonged to the class of weaker brethren. As a body, however, the Gentiles were disposed to latitudinarianism; and the Jews to superstitious scrupulousness. So far as general principles were concerned, Paul sided with the Gentile party. Their views about meats and drinks, and holy days, and ceremonies were derived from the apostle himself, and were therefore approved by him. But the spirit and practice of this party he severely condemns. Thus, in the present instance, he admits that an idol is nothing; that a sacrifice is nothing; that all enlightened Christians know this; that, consequently, eating of the heathen sacrifices was a matter of indifference, it made a man neither better nor worse; and yet eating of them might be, and in their case it was, sinful; because injurious to their weaker brethren. He begins the chapter with the admission, therefore, that all enlightened Christians have knowledge. He reminds them, however, that there is something higher than knowledge; that knowledge without love is, after all, only another form of ignorance. The main thing to be known is not apprehended, 1 Corinthians 10:1-3. He admits, however, that Christians know that the gods of the heathen are vanities and lies, that there is but one only, the living and true God, 1 Corinthians 10:4. For although the heathen acknowledge a whole hierarchy of deities, celestial and terrestrial, Christians acknowledge but one God and one Mediator, 1 Corinthians 10:6. All this is admitted. It is, however, nevertheless true that many Christians, though they know that there is but one God, yet are not persuaded that the heathen deities are nothing, and therefore they stand in awe of them, and could not help believing that eating of sacrifices offered to idols was an act of worship, or in some way defiling, 1 Corinthians 10:7. The apostle also admits the second principle relied upon by the Gentile converts, viz., that meat does not commend us to God, that it can have no influence on our spiritual state, 1 Corinthians 10:8. It is not enough, however, that an act should be in its own nature indifferent to justify us in performing it. If our doing what is in itself innocent be the occasion of leading others into sin, it is for that reason sinful for us, 1 Corinthians 10:9. If, therefore, a weak brother should be led, against the convictions of his own mind, to join his stronger brethren in eating such sacrifices, he would bring himself into condemnation. It was, therefore, a breach of charity and a sin against Christ, to eat of the heathen sacrifices under circumstances which emboldened others to sin, 1 Corinthians 10:10-12. The apostle avows his own determination never to eat meat at all, if by so doing he should cause his brethren to sin, 1 Corinthians 10:13.
Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.
The idolatry of the Greeks and Romans pervaded their whole life. Their social intercourse, their feasts, the administration of justice, the public amusements, the offices and honors of the government, were all more or less connected with religious services. Christians, therefore, were constantly exposed to the danger of being involved in some idolatrous homage without even knowing it. This gave rise to numerous and perplexing questions of conscience, which were often decided differently by different classes of Christians. One of the most perplexing of these questions related to the use of things offered to idols. Some had no scruples on this point; others thought it sinful to eat of such sacrifices under any circumstances. This was a question which it was necessary to have authoritatively settled, because it came up every day for decision. The victims offered in sacrifices were usually divided into three parts. One was consumed on the altar, another was given to the priest, and a third was retained by the offerer. The portion given to the priest, if not needed for himself, was sent to the market. The portion retained by the offerer was either eaten at his own table, or within the precincts of the temple. The Christians, therefore, if they bought meat in the market, or if invited to the houses of their heathen friends, or to the festivals in the temples, were liable to have these sacrifices placed before them. The two grounds on which the more liberal of them defended the use of such meat, were, first, that the idols were nothing, they were not really gods; and secondly, that meat cannot commend us to God. Both these principles are true, and therefore the apostle concedes them, but at the same time corrects the practical inferences which the Gentile converts drew from them. There were really two distinct questions relating to this subject. The first was, whether eating such sacrifices was lawful? the other, whether it was lawful to eat them within the precincts of the temple? The apostle does not distinguish these questions until the tenth chapter. Here he speaks of the subject only in its general aspects.
Now as touching things offered unto idols. Literally, But, concerning idol-sacrifices. The particle (
δέ), but, serves to introduce a new topic. As the fourth verse begins, concerning therefore the eating things offered to idols, the intervening words are a logical parenthesis. This parenthesis may begin immediately after the word idols, or after the word knowledge, so that the first two clauses of the verse are connected. “But concerning idol-sacrifices, we know we all have knowledge.” This claim to knowledge, though a claim of the Corinthians, and the ground on which they defended the eating of those sacrifices, is not put forward as a point to be contested. The apostle adopts it, or makes it his own, and then proceeds to qualify and limit it, precisely as he did with the aphorism, “All things are lawful,” in 1 Corinthians 6:12; see also 1 Corinthians 10:23. The subject of the two verbs know and have in this verse are not necessarily the same. The sense may be: ‘I know we all have knowledge.’ The knowledge intended is determined by the context. It is the knowledge concerning idols. In this verse Paul says, “We all have knowledge;” but in 1 Corinthians 8:7, he says, “This knowledge is not in all.” This apparent contradiction may be explained by supposing, what is perfectly natural, that the apostle has reference to different classes of persons in the two passages. In 1 Corinthians 8:1 he may intend himself and his followers. We all, that is, all the stronger or more enlightened class of believers. Whereas, in 1 Corinthians 8:7, he may refer to Christians generally, including the strong and weak. ‘This knowledge is not in all, for the weak have it not.’ Or the distinction may be between theoretical and practical knowledge. All Christians admit, as a matter of theory, that an idol is nothing, but this knowledge is not in all believers practical and controlling. This also is natural and satisfactory. It is analogous to the statements of this same apostle in reference to the heathen. In Romans 1:23 he says, ‘They know God,’ but in 1 Corinthians 1:21 he says, they ‘know not God.’ These statements are perfectly consistent, because the word know has different senses. There is a sense in which all men know God; they all, from the constitution of their nature, and from the works of God, know that there is a being on whom they are dependent, and to whom they are responsible. But this is not the knowledge of God which is said to be “eternal life.” It is therefore perfectly consistent to attribute the former knowledge to the heathen, though he denies to them the latter. So here it is consistent to say that all Christians have a theoretical knowledge of the truth that there is but one God, and that idols are nothing, and yet say that this knowledge is not practical and controlling in all. It is one of the great beauties of the Scriptures, that the sacred writers in the calm consciousness of truth, in the use of popular, as distinguished from philosophical language, affirm and deny the same verbal proposition, assured that the consistency and intent of their statements will make their way to the heart and conscience. That the apostle is here speaking of theoretical, as distinguished from true, practical knowledge, is plain from what he says of it. It puffeth up. The Greek word here used ( φυσιόω), is, in the New Testament, employed in the sense of the word ( φυσάω), which means to blow, to fill with wind, to inflate, and then, to render vain and conceited. Mere theoretical or speculative knowledge, that is, knowledge divorced from love, tends to inflate the mind, i.e. renders it vain and conceited. It is a great mistake, therefore, to suppose that there knowledge, without religion, elevates and refines men, or can purify society. It is essential, but it is insufficient.
Charity edifieth. Charity is an inadequate and unhappy translation of the Greek word (
ἀγάπη), because, agreeably to its Latin derivation, it properly means the feeling which arises from the perception of the wants and sufferings of others, and the consequent desire to relieve them. Love ( ἀγάπη, a word peculiar to Hellenistic Greek,) is much more comprehensive than this, not only because it may have God for its object, but also because, when exercised towards men it includes complacency and delight as well as benevolence. It is of this comprehensive virtue the apostle treats at length in the thirteenth chapter of this epistle, and of which he here says, it edifies. It does not terminate on itself, as knowledge does, but goes out of itself, and seeks it happiness in another, and lives and acts for others. It is, therefore, something incomparably higher than knowledge, when the two are separated and distinguished.
And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.
The knowledge which puffs up is not true knowledge. One is constantly astonished at the profound remarks which every where occur in the sacred writings; remarks which do not directly refer to the mysteries of the gospel, but philosophical remarks; that is, such as reveal the deepest insight into the nature of man and the workings of his constitution. Philosophy and theology are inseparably connected. The former is an element of the latter. A system of philosophy might be constructed by collecting and classifying the aphorisms of the Bible. And the reason why the philosophy which underlies Augustinianism has stood as a rock in the ocean, while other systems rise and fall like waves around it, is, that it is derived from the word of God, and not from the speculations of men. The relation between the cognitive and emotional faculties is one of the most difficult problems in philosophy. In many systems they are regarded as distinct. Paul here teaches, that with regard to a large class of objects, knowledge without feeling is nothing; it supposes the most essential characteristics of the object to be unperceived. And in the following verse he teaches that love is the highest form of knowledge. To know God is to love him; and to love him is to know him. Love is intelligent, and knowledge is emotional. Hence the apostle says, If a man thinketh that he knoweth any thing; that is, if he is proud or conceited, he is ignorant. He does not apprehend the true nature of the objects which he pretends to know. He does not see their vastness, their complexity, their majesty and excellence. These are the attributes of religious truths which are the most essential, and without the apprehension of which they cannot be known.
But if any man love God, the same is known of him.
To love is to know and to be known. Compare 1 John 4:7, 1 John 4:8 “Every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God; he that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love.” This is the precise sentiment of the text. Love is essential to knowledge. He that loves God, knows God. The apostle in this connection interchanges love of the brethren and the love of God, because the love of the brethren is only one of the forms in which the love of God manifests itself. When he said, “Love edifieth,” he meant love to the brethren, and without that love, he says, there can be no true knowledge; but if a man love God, (which includes love to the brethren,) the same is known of him. What is meant by this last expression, is not easy to determine. To be known of God may, according to scriptural usage, mean,
1. To be selected or approved by him, Exodus 33:12, Exodus 33:17. Nahum 1:7. Matthew 7:23.
2. To be recognized as belonging to a particular class. So here, the sense may be, ‘Is recognized by him as one of his disciples, or as one of his children,
3. To be the object of God’s knowledge; but what this can mean in this connection, unless it include the idea of approbation, it is not easy to see.
4. According to others, the word (
ἔγνωσται) is to be taken in a Hophal sense — ‘has been caused to know.’ ‘If any man loves God, the same has by him been brought to the true knowledge.’
This view certainly suits the context. ‘If a man is without love, he has not true knowledge; but if he love God, he has the right kind of knowledge.’ The later grammarians deny that the passive form of Greek verbs ever has a causative sense analogous to the Hophal of Hebrew verbs. But as intransitive verbs in Greek often have a causative signification, (see Matthew 5:45; Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 2:14) it is not unreasonable that the passive form should be so used, if the context require it. In Galatians 4:9 Paul says, “If after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God;” where the sense may be, ‘or rather have been taught of God.’ Whether the general principle be admitted or not, that the passive of Greek verbs can have this causative force, it is not improbable that Paul assumed that the particular verb
γινώσκειν might mean cognoscere facere, (i.e. to teach), a sense attributed to it by Stephanus in his Thesaurus; and if so, the passive as here used may mean, was taught. It is to be noticed, that it is only this verb that he appears to use in this way. If, however, this interpretation be rejected, as is done by the majority of modern commentators, as contrary to Greek usage, the first explanation given above gives a good sense. ‘If any love God, the same is approved of him, i.e. is recognized as having the right kind of knowledge.’
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.
Concerning then. The particle (
οὖν), then serves to resume the subject of 1 Corinthians 8:1 after the interruption occasioned by the preceding parenthesis. For the general expression in 1 Corinthians 8:1, “Concerning idol-sacrifices,” we have here the more definite one, “Concerning the eating of idol-sacrifices;” which was the point in dispute. To determine whether it was proper to eat of these sacrifices, it must be determined, first, what an idol is, and secondly, what effect the eating would have. As to the former, Paul says, there is no idol, (or an idol is nothing;) and as to the latter, that the eating could have no effect on our religious state; it could make us neither better nor worse, 1 Corinthians 8:8. From this it follows, that eating or not eating is a matter of indifference. Nevertheless, if our eating causes others to sin, we ought not to eat. It is worthy of remark that the apostle, in answering questions of conscience, does not give a categorical reply, but gives the reason for his decision. So here; and in ch. 11 he does not simply say it was wrong for Grecian women to appear in public unveiled, but he unfolds the principles valid for all time, on which the decision of that particular question rested.
As to the question, What is an idol? it is obvious that the word (
ἔιδωλον, image,) is used metonymically for the deity which the image was intended to represent. It is of such deity, or rather of the heathen gods generally, the apostle here speaks. His words are, “We know that οὐδὲν ἔιδωλον ἐν κόσμῳ,” which may mean, either, an idol is nothing in the world; or, there is no idol in the world, i.e. the universe. If the former version be adopted, the sense may be, either, ‘these deities are nonentities,’ they have no existence; or, they are powerless, they have no influence over the affairs of men. In favor of that translation is the analogy of Scripture. In the Old Testament the gods of the heathen are frequently said to be nothing, vanities, lies, etc., Isaiah 41:24; Isaiah 44:8, Isaiah 44:9. Jeremiah 10:14. Psalms 115:4, Psalms 115:8. So the Rabbis also said, Noverant utique Israelitae, idolum nihil esse, Sanhdr. 63:2. But this explanation is not suitable here. As οὐδεὶς θεός in the next clause means there is no God, οὐδὲν εἴδωλον must mean, there is no idol. This does not mean that the heathen gods are either nonentities or powerless, for in 1 Corinthians 10:19 Paul says they are demons. But it means, there are no such beings in the universe as the heathen conceived their gods to be. There was no Jupiter, Juno, or Mars. There is no God, no real divine being but one. The objects of heathen worship were neither what the heathen took them to be, nor were they gods in the true sense of that term.
For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, as there be gods many, and lords many,
This verse admits of two interpretations. It is commonly understood to mean, that although there are many imaginary gods in heaven and earth, i.e. beings whom the heathen regard as divinities, yet in fact there is but one God. When he says, there are many gods and many lords, he is to be understood to mean that such is the fact in the mythology of the heathen. A large number of commentators, however, understand the passage thus: ‘There is but one true God; for although it be admitted that there are many beings called gods, as in fact there are gods many and lords many, yet to us there is but one.’ The apostle concedes that, in the wide sense of the term, there are many gods and lords; and, therefore, if it should be admitted (what he does not admit) that the whole hierarchy of divinities, as conceived of by the heathen, actually existed, it is nevertheless true that there is but one God, the creator and end of all things. In favor of this interpretation is the usage of the O. T. Deuteronomy 10:17 “The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords.” Joshua 22:22. Daniel 2:47. Psalms 136:2, Psalms 136:3.
1. These passages show that the words god and lord are applied in a wide sense to other beings than to the true God.
2. The position and force of the words are in favor of this view. They mean, Sunt qui dii dicuntur; there are powers and beings who are called gods, as there are gods many, and lords many. To make this mean, there are in the estimation of the heathen many gods, is to insert something which is not in the text.
3. In 1 Corinthians 10:19, 1 Corinthians 10:20, the apostle asserts that the objects of heathen worship are real and powerful beings.
4. The apparent contradiction between saying, there is no idol in the world, and saying, there are many gods, is easily removed. The meaning is, ‘There is no such being in the universe as Jupiter or Mars; for although there is a multitude of supernatural beings, called gods and lords, not only by the heathen, but also in Scripture, yet there are no such beings as those which the heathen imagine.’
The whole heathen mythology is a fable, the work of the imagination. There are no such gods in existence, though there are demons in abundance, of various ranks and powers, called gods. There are two things which the apostle means to deny.
1. The existence of such beings as the heathen conceived their gods to be.
2. That the supernatural beings who do really exist, and who are called gods, are really divine. They are mere creatures.
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.
Though there are many creatures called gods, there is but one true God, the creator of all things. To us, i.e. to Christians. There is one God, i.e. only one being who is eternal, self-existing and almighty. This one God is, first, the Father; not the first person of the Trinity, but our father. The word does not here express the relation of the first to the second person in the Godhead, but the relation of God as such to us as his children. When we say, “Our Father who art in heaven,” the word Father designates the Supreme Being, the Triune Jehovah. Secondly, of this one God it is said, of him are all things. He, the one God, is the source of the whole universe, and all that it contains. He created all things by the word of his power. All other beings are his creatures. Thirdly, we are to him. He is our end; for his glory we were created and redeemed. Our version rendering the words
εἰς αὐτόν, in him, is an unnecessary departure from their proper meaning.
As there is but one divine Being, so there is but one Lord, i.e. one administrator of the universe, into whose hands all power in heaven and earth has been committed, and who is the only mediator between God and man. This one Lord is Jesus Christ, Jesus the Messiah, the historical person, born in Bethlehem and crucified on Calvary. Of this one Lord it is said, first, all things are by him. The all things in this clause must be coextensive with the all things in the preceding one, i.e. the universe. Comp. Ephesians 3:9. Colossians 1:16. Hebrews 1:2. The universe was created through Jesus Christ, i.e. the energy of the one God was exercised through the Logos, who became flesh, assuming our nature into personal union with himself, and is therefore called Jesus Christ. This passage affords a striking illustration of the fact that the person of Christ may be denominated from his human nature, when what is affirmed of him is true only of his divine nature. He is here called Jesus Christ, though the work of creation attributed to him was the work of the Logos. Secondly, it is said of this one Lord, that we are by him. This does not mean we were created by him; for we Christians are included in the all things. It would be tautological to say, He created all things, and he created us. The meaning is, we as Christians (not, we as creatures, for that had been said before), we as the children of God are by him. We were redeemed by him; we are brought unto God by him.
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.
The context shows that (
ἡ γνῶσις), the knowledge, means the particular kind of knowledge of which he had been speaking, viz. the knowledge that there is no idol in the world, or that the gods of the heathen are imaginary beings. Though the weaker believers knew that there is but one true God, they were still not fully persuaded that the gods of the heathen had no existence. With conscience of an idol. The word συνείδησις unites the meanings of our words conscience and consciousness, being sometimes the one and sometimes the other. Here the former meaning is better suited to the context. Conscience of an idol means a conscience under the influence of an idol; as in 1 Peter 2:19 conscience of God means a conscience under the influence of God.‹9› The moral judgments and feelings of the persons referred to, were still influenced by the apprehension that the heathen gods might be real beings. Unto this hour. The words ( ἕως ἄρτι) until now, in the common Text stand after the word for idol; most modern editors of the Greek Testament, on the authority of the older MSS., place them before that word. In the one position, they naturally qualify the word to eat; ‘until now they eat,’ i.e. they continue to eat. In the other, they qualify the word conscience; with a conscience still under the inpuence of an idol, which gives a better sense. Having this persuasion, or at least this apprehension of the reality of the idol, they eat the sacrifice as a sacrifice. That is, they do not regard it as ordinary meat, but as something which had a religious character and influence, from the fact of its having been offered in sacrifice. Hence their conscience being weak was defiled. A weak conscience is one which either regards as wrong what is not in fact so; or one which is not clear and decided in its judgments. According to the Scriptures, “whatever is not of faith is sin,” Romans 14:23; therefore whatever a man does, thinking it is wrong, or doubtful whether it be wrong or not, to him it is sin. Thus the man who eats an idol-sacrifice, uncertain whether he is doing right or not, defiles his conscience. The conscience is said to be defiled, either when it approves or cherishes sin or when it is burdened by a sense of guilt. The latter form of pollution is that here intended. The man who acts in the way supposed feels guilty, and is really guilty.
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.
This verse is analogous to 1 Corinthians 8:1, in so far that it contains a principle adopted by the apostle as his own, which the Corinthians urged to justify their latitudinarian practice with regard to these sacrifices. It is not introduced as an objection, or as a point to be contested, but as an admitted truth, the application of which is to be regulated by other principles no less true. It is admitted that meat does not commend us to God. Literally does not cause us to stand near to God; which involves the idea expressed in our version. For eating makes us neither better nor worse. It neither causes us to excel (
περισσεύειν) nor to come behind ( ὑστερεῖν).
There is another view of the bearing of this passage which has much to commend it and which has many advocates. It is regarded as assigning a reason why the strong should have respect to the weak. ‘If meat were a matter of importance, if it really commended us to God, there would be a valid reason why you should eat these sacrifices. But as it is a matter of indifference, you should not cause your brethren to offend.’ This would be a natural interpretation if the caution which follows were introduced as an inference. That is, if the apostle had said, ‘Eating is a matter of indifference, therefore you should use your liberty with due regard to your brethren. His language, however, is, ‘Meat does not commend us to God; it makes us neither better nor worse; but take heed how you use your liberty.’ It is evidently a concession limited by what follows; comp. 1 Corinthians 6:12, “All things are lawful, but all things are not expedient;” see also 1 Corinthians 10:23.
But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
Admitting you have the right to eat of these sacrifices, take care lest your eating become an occasion of sin to your weaker brethren. Your liberty. The word (
1. Ability or power.
2. Lawful power or right.
3. Authority; ‘Who gave thee this authority?’
4. Power over others, dominion or rule.
Here the second sense is the one in which the word is to be taken. Stumblingblock, ‘(
πρόσκομμα) elsewhere rendered offense, in a moral sense is that which is an occasion to sin, or which causes men to fall. In the same sense the word ( σκάνδαλον, literally, a trap-stick,) scandal is used, Luke 17:1. Romans 14:13; 1 John 2:10. The weak are the doubting, the undecided, those “not having knowledge,” as is implied in the next verse.
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;
This verse is designed to show how eating these sacrifices might be an occasion of sin to others. For serves to introduce the illustration. See thee having knowledge. This is the description of the strong. They were those whose views were clear and their convictions decided. Sit at meat, (
κατακείμενον,) literally, lying down, according to the ancient custom of reclining on a couch at table. The word ἀνάκειμαι, to lie up, is also used, as the couches were usually higher than the table. In the idol’s temple. In the tenth chapter the apostle teaches, that as eating of things offered to idols was a matter of indifference, there was no harm in buying such meat in the market, or in partaking of it at a private table; but that to eat it within the precincts of the temple was an act of idolatry, and brought them into communion with demons, and therefore utterly broke off their connection with Christ. Here he views the matter simply under the aspect of an offense, or in reference to its effect on the weaker brethren, and therefore says nothing of the sinfulness of the act in itself. In like manner, in the eleventh chapter, speaking of it as a matter of decorum, he simply condemns women speaking in church unveiled, as though he had no objection to their speaking in public; but in the fourteenth chapter he condemns the thing itself, and not merely the manner of doing it. Shall not the conscience of him being weak (i.e. being uncertain whether he was doing right or wrong,) be emboldened; literally, be edified. This must either be understood ironically, which is out of keeping with the whole tone of the passage, or the word must be taken in the sense of built up, carried forward to the point ( εἰς) of eating of the idol-sacrifices. That is, he might be led to do what his conscience secretly condemned.
And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
That is, shall your knowledge be the occasion of the perdition of a weak brother? There are three forms in which the apostle expresses the consequence of doing what the conscience is not satisfied is right. In 1 Corinthians 8:7 he says, the conscience is defiled; here, he says, the man perishes or is lost; in Romans 14:23 he says, “He that doubteth is damned (condemned) if he eat.” All these forms of expression amount to the same thing. Guilt, condemnation and perdition are connected. The one implies the other. Whatever brings guilt on the conscience exposes to condemnation, and condemnation is perdition.
For whom Christ died. There is great power and pathos in these words. Shall we, for the sake of eating one kind of meat rather than another, endanger the salvation of those for whom the eternal Son of God laid down his life? The infinite distance between Christ and us, and the almost infinite distance between his sufferings and the trifling self-denial required at our hands, give to the apostle’s appeal a force the Christian heart cannot resist. The language of Paul in this verse seems to assume that those may perish for whom Christ died. It belongs, therefore, to the same category as those numerous passages which make the same assumption with regard to the elect. If the latter are consistent with the certainty of the salvation of all the elect, then this passage is consistent with the certainty of the salvation of those for whom Christ specifically died. It was absolutely certain that none of Paul’s companions in shipwreck was on that occasion to lose his life, because the salvation of the whole company had been predicted and promised; and yet the apostle said that if the sailors were allowed to take away the boats, those left on board could not be saved. This appeal secured the accomplishment of the promise. So God’s telling the elect that if they apostatize they shall perish, prevents their apostasy. And in like manner, the Bible teaching that those for whom Christ died shall perish if they violate their conscience, prevents their transgressing, or brings them to repentance. God’s purposes embrace the means as well as the end. If the means fail, the end will fail. He secures the end by securing the means. It is just as certain that those for whom Christ died shall be saved, as that the elect shall be saved. Yet in both cases the event is spoken of as conditional. There is not only a possibility, but an absolute certainty of their perishing if they fall away. But this is precisely what God has promised to prevent. This passage, therefore, is perfectly consistent with those numerous passages which teach that Christ’s death secures the salvation of all those who were given to him in the covenant of redemption. There is, however, a sense in which it is scriptural to say that Christ died for all men. This is very different from saying that he died equally for all men, or that his death had no other reference to those who are saved than it had to those who are lost. To die for one is to die for his benefit. As Christ’s death has benefited the whole world, prolonged the probation of men, secured for them innumerable blessings, provided a righteousness sufficient and suitable for all, it may be said that he died for all. And in reference to this obvious truth the language of the apostle, should any prefer this interpretation, may be understood, ‘Why should we destroy one for whose benefit Christ laid down his life?’ All this is perfectly consistent with the great scriptural truth that Christ came into the world to save his people, that his death renders certain the salvation of all those whom the Father hath given him, and therefore that he died not only for them but in their place, and on the condition that they should never die.
But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.
We sin against our brethren when we wound their weak conscience. The one phrase explains the other. To wound a man’s conscience is to give it the pain of remorse. When we bring on him a sense of guilt we inflict on him the greatest evil in our power; not only because a wounded spirit is worse than a wounded body; but also because a sense of guilt alienates us from God and brings us under the power of Satan. He who thus sins against his brother, sins against Christ. This is true in two senses. An injury done to a child is an injury to the parent, both because proper regard for the parent would prevent one from injuring his child; and also because the parent suffers in the child. They are so united that the injury of the one is the injury of the other. So also it is a manifestation of want of love to Christ, an insult and injury to him, to injure his people; and moreover, he and they are so united that whatever of good or evil is done to them is done also to him. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,” Matthew 25:40. If we believed this aright it would render us very careful not to wound our fellow Christians, and make us also feel it to be an honor to relieve their wants.
Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.
σκανδαλίζω means either to offend, or to cause to offend. That is, either to provoke, or to cause to sin. The English word is also used in both these senses. Matthew 17:27, “That we may not offend them,” i.e. provoke them. Matthew 5:29, “If thy eye offend thee,” i.e. cause thee to sin; and Matthew 18:6, “Whoso shall offend (i.e. cause to sin) one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a mill-stone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” This last quoted passage shows how serious a matter our Lord considers it to lead even the weakest Christian into sin. It is still worse to lead him into error, for error is the mother of many sins. It shows also how great an evil sin is, and justifies the strong language of the apostle that he would never eat flesh rather man cause his brother to offend. It is morally obligatory, therefore, to abstain from indulging in things indifferent, when the use of them is the occasion of sin to others. This is a principle the application of which must be left to every man’s conscience in the fear of God. No rule of conduct, founded on expediency, can be enforced by church discipline. It was right in Paul to refuse to eat flesh for fear of causing others to offend; but he could not have been justly exposed to discipline, had he seen fit to eat it. He circumcised Timothy, and refused to circumcise Titus. Whenever a thing is right or wrong according to circumstances, every man must have the right to judge of those circumstances.