Knowledge Insufficient. 1Now in regard to meat sacrificed to idols:* we realize that “all of us have knowledge”; knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up.a 2If anyone supposes he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3But if one loves God, one is known by him.b
4So about the eating of meat sacrificed to idols: we know that “there is no idol in the world,” and that “there is no God but one.”c 5Indeed, even though there are so-called gods in heaven and on earth (there are, to be sure, many “gods” and many “lords”), 6* yet for us there is
one God, the Father,
from whom all things are and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ,
through whom all things are and through whom we exist.d
Practical Rules. 7But not all have this knowledge. There are some who have been so used to idolatry up until now that, when they eat meat sacrificed to idols, their conscience, which is weak, is defiled.e
8* Now food will not bring us closer to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, nor are we better off if we do.f 9But make sure that this liberty of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak.g 10If someone sees you, with your knowledge, reclining at table in the temple of an idol, may not his conscience too, weak as it is, be “built up” to eat the meat sacrificed to idols? 11Thus through your knowledge, the weak person is brought to destruction, the brother for whom Christ died.h 12When you sin in this way against your brothers and wound their consciences, weak as they are, you are sinning against Christ. 13* i Therefore, if food causes my brother to sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I may not cause my brother to sin.
* [8:1–11:1] The Corinthians’ second question concerns meat that has been sacrificed to idols; in this area they were exhibiting a disordered sense of liberation that Paul here tries to rectify. These chapters contain a sustained and unified argument that illustrates Paul’s method of theological reflection on a moral dilemma. Although the problem with which he is dealing is dated, the guidelines for moral decisions that he offers are of lasting validity. Essentially Paul urges them to take a communitarian rather than an individualistic view of their Christian freedom. Many decisions that they consider pertinent only to their private relationship with God have, in fact, social consequences. Nor can moral decisions be determined by merely theoretical considerations; they must be based on concrete circumstances, specifically on the value and needs of other individuals and on mutual responsibility within the community. Paul here introduces the theme of “building up” (oikodomē), i.e., of contributing by individual action to the welfare and growth of the community. This theme will be further developed in 1 Cor 14; see note on 1 Cor 14:3b–5. Several years later Paul would again deal with the problem of meat sacrificed to idols in Rom 14:1–15:6.
* [8:1a] Meat sacrificed to idols: much of the food consumed in the city could have passed through pagan religious ceremonies before finding its way into markets and homes. “All of us have knowledge”: a slogan, similar to 1 Cor 6:12, which reveals the self-image of the Corinthians. 1 Cor 8:4 will specify the content of this knowledge.
* [8:6] This verse rephrases the monotheistic confession of v. 4 in such a way as to contrast it with polytheism (1 Cor 8:5) and to express our relationship with the one God in concrete, i.e., in personal and Christian terms. And for whom we exist: since the Greek contains no verb here and the action intended must be inferred from the preposition eis, another translation is equally possible: “toward whom we return.” Through whom all things: the earliest reference in the New Testament to Jesus’ role in creation.
* [8:8–9] Although the food in itself is morally neutral, extrinsic circumstances may make the eating of it harmful. A stumbling block: the image is that of tripping or causing someone to fall (cf. 1 Cor 8:13; 9:12; 10:12, 32; 2 Cor 6:3; Rom 14:13, 20–21). This is a basic moral imperative for Paul, a counterpart to the positive imperative to “build one another up”; compare the expression “giving offense” as opposed to “pleasing” in 1 Cor 10:32–33.