Matthew Poole's Commentary
Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.1 Corinthians 8:1-3 The preference of charity to knowledge.
1 Corinthians 8:4-6 An idol is nothing in the esteem of those who have
right notions of one God, and of one Lord Jesus
1 Corinthians 8:7-13 But it is sin in those, who by an indiscreet
use of their knowledge, in eating meats
offered to idols, tempt weaker consciences to offend.
The apostle proceedeth to a new argument, about which the Corinthians had wrote to him, viz. about the eating of meat offered to idols. Of this meat offered to idols we have this account given us: Feasts upon sacrifices were very usual amongst the heathens; they first offered oxen, sheep, or other cattle to the idol; then the priest offered a part, burning it upon the idol’s altar; other part they restored to the offerers, or took it to themselves. The priests made a feast in the idol’s temple of their parts, and invited friends to it. The offerers either so feasted with the part restored to them in the idol’s temple, or carried it home, and there feasted their neighbours with it; or else carried it into the market, and sold it (as other meat) in the shambles. The question was: Whether it was lawful for Christians, being invited to these feasts by those amongst whom they lived, to go to them, and to eat of such meat, whether it were in the idol’s temple, or at the pagans’ houses; or if any such meat were bought in the shambles, whether they might eat of that? Some amongst the Christians at Corinth thought any of these were lawful, because they knew an idol was nothing but a block, or piece of wood or stone, so could not defile any thing. The apostle tells them, that he knew very many of them had good degrees of knowledge, and every one understood that an idol was nothing; but yet he warneth them to take heed they were not puffed up with their knowledge, that is, swelled in such a confident opinion of it, that they thought they could not be mistaken, and be betrayed, by their conceit of it, to do that which is sinful; for charity edifieth. Charity signifieth either love to God, or love to our neighbour; here the latter seemeth to be intended, and the sense is: That they were not only concerned in the good of their own souls, but of their neighbours’ also, and to do that which might tend to their profit and edification, not to their ruin and destruction.
And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.Let it be in this or any other matter, if any man be proud of his knowledge, and be conceited that he knoweth enough, and needeth none to instruct him, he may indeed have a notion of things, but it will do him no good; a man ought to use his knowledge for the glory of God, and the edification of others. Let a man have never so large a notion of things, if he be not humble, if he useth not his knowledge to the honour of God and the advantage of others,
he knoweth nothing as he ought to know it. Knowledge is a talent not to be laid up in a napkin.
But if any man love God, the same is known of him.It is of much more advantage to a soul to be known of God, that is, owned, acknowledged, and approved, than to comprehend much of the things of God in its notion. A man may know much of God, and yet be one to whom God will one day say: Depart from me, I know you not, you workers of iniquity: but if any man love God, that man is beloved of God, and shall be owned and acknowledged by him. In this sense know is taken in a multitude of scriptures: see John 17:3. Our translators render this word allow, Romans 7:15.
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.Those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols; meat which is part of that sacrifice which hath been offered to an idol, whether it be to be eaten in the idol’s temple, or in a private house.
We know that an idol is nothing in the world; we know that an image, or an idol, the representation of some other thing, though in respect of the matter it be something, either wood, stone, or earth, and in respect of form it be something, yet it is nothing formally, or representatively; though it is set up to represent to us a Deity, there is nothing of a Divine nature, or the representation of a Divine nature, in it. It
is nothing of what the poor blind heathen take it to be, and therefore in the Hebrew it hath its name from a word la that signifieth nothing; Job 13:14 Zechariah 11:17: or it is nothing, that can either sanctify or pollute any meat that is set before it. And we know that there is none other God but one: the apostle may be conceived to have spoken these words as from himself, granting what those said who took themselves to be men of knowledge; or else in the language of those who thus spake, repeating their words.
For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)There are many whom heathens call gods, and whom God himself calleth gods: the angels that are in heaven are called God’s host, Genesis 32:2; the heavenly host, Luke 2:13; the sons of God, Job 1:6 2:1. Magistrates are also called gods, Psalm 82:6, because God hath committed a great part of his power unto them. Thus there are many gods and many lords.
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.Whatever the idolatrous heathens think or believe, to us (who are Christians)
there is but one who is truly and essentially God, ( though indeed there be more than one person in the Deity), the Father, who is the Fountain of the Deity, communicating his Divine nature to the other two persons, and of whom are all things. It is a term which signifieth the primary Cause and Author of all things: we subsist in him, according to that of the apostle, Acts 17:28:
In him we live, and move, and have our being; and we are for him, created for his honour and glory, as the phrase may also be translated.
And one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things. He is the second person in the holy Trinity. It is the observation of a learned author: That though the name of God be often given to Christ, yet no where by Paul where he maketh mention of God the Father; from whence he concludes, that the term of Lord given to Christ, signifieth his pre-eminence above all things, (the Father excepted), according to what the apostle speaks, 1 Corinthians 15:27. By this Christ, saith the apostle, are all things: All things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made that was made, John 1:3; yet the difference of the phrase is observable, to denote to us the order of working in the holy Trinity. All things are of the Father by the Son.
And we by him; and we (saith the apostle) are by the Son created, redeemed, &c.
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.Though some of you know that there is but one living and true God, and that an idol is nothing in the world, and meat is neither sanctified nor polluted by being set before it; yet every one doth not know so much: and though the gospel have been a long time preached amongst them, yet to this day they may have some superstitions opinion of the idol, and then their conscience will be defiled or polluted. It is much the same case at this day as to the business of image worship, or veneration of images, and invocation of saints, amongst the papists. The wisest and most knowing of them will declaim against giving Divine adoration to the image, or to the saint, and tell us that they worship the true and living God upon the sight of the image only, and make use of the name of the saint only to desire him, or her, to pray to God for them. Now not to meddle with that question: Whether in our worshipping the true God, it be lawful to set a creature before us as our motive or incitement to worship, or use any Mediator but Christ? Yet the things are unlawful, upon the same account that the apostle here determines it unlawful for stronger Christians to eat meat offered to idols, though they knew and professed that an idol was nothing; for all people that come so to worship have not that knowledge; there are, without doubt, multitudes of simple people amongst the papists, that, plainly, in this kind of veneration and adoration venerate and adore the creature; and so their consciences are defiled by idolatry, because they have not such knowledge as others have, supposing that what those others did were lawful as to their practice, which indeed it is not.
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.The apostle here speaketh in the person either of those teachers amongst them, or those more private persons amongst them, who made no difficulty of eating meat offered to idols; they objected, that meat, or the eating of meat, was not the thing which commended any man to God; they were not the better if they did eat, or the worse if they did not eat. The apostle himself had asserted this, Romans 14:17, that the kingdom of God was not meat or drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.The word exousia is here well translated liberty, though it also signifieth right, and seems in either sense rather to signify a supposed than a real liberty or right; for we shall see in the next verse, that the apostle is here speaking of their eating in the idol’s temple, which, 1 Corinthians 10:21, he determineth to be a having a communion with devils, and therefore could not be lawful; the apostle therefore seemeth here only to suppose (as they pretended) that in their eating simply in the idol’s temple they did not sin, because by eating men are not made the worse; yet, as we shall see afterwards, he declareth their action was not free from guilt, as it was a violation of that brotherly love which they were obliged to show to their neighbour.
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;Here the apostle showeth how they sinned in eating meat in the idol’s temple, which had been before offered to the idol, admitting the thing in itself lawful, (which indeed it was not), viz. accidentally, by laying a stumblingblock before their brethren, who either were really weak in their knowledge, or, at least, they were looked upon as such. For (saith he) if any see thee, who, they think, hast knowledge, or who boastest of thy knowledge, sit at meat in the idol’s temple, will not he by it be encouraged to do the same, though possibly he judgeth it is not lawful? The word translated emboldened, is the same which is elsewhere often in the New Testament translated edified: it metaphorically signifies to make a progress or proficiency either in good or evil (though this be the only text in the New Testament where it is taken in an ill sense). This the apostle determines sinful; which lets us know the obligation that lieth upon every good Christian, not to use his liberty to the prejudice of others’ souls, by doing any actions which we may do or let alone, which done by us may probably become a snare to them.
And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?Through thy knowledge, in this place, is, by occasion of thy knowledge. God hath not given people knowledge that they thereby should be a means to harm and to destroy, but to do good, and to save others; it is a most absurd thing for any to use their knowledge, therefore, to the destruction of others.
Shall the weak brother perish? By perish is here meant, be led into sin, by acting contrary to the judgment of his own conscience; for, (as the apostle saith, Romans 14:23): He that doubteth is damned if he eat, for whatsoever is not of faith, that is, done out of a firm persuasion in the party doing that it is lawful, is sin.
For whom Christ died; though he be weak, yet if he be a true believer, Christ died for him, and there can be nothing more contrary to the duty of a charitable Christian, than to be a means to damn him whom Christ came down from heaven and died for, that he might save him.
But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.But when ye sin so against the brethren: sin is properly against God, for it is a breach of the Divine law; but the violations of that part of the Divine law which concerneth our duty to our neighbour, are called sins against our brethren, that is, sins against God in matters which concern our duty towards our brethren.
And wound their weak conscience; the giving the weak judgments of others, by your examples, an occasion of sin, by venturing upon actions which they think sinful, is that which is here called a beating, or a wounding, their weak consciences, because it is indeed a hurting and defiling of them.
Ye sin against Christ; this the apostle determineth to be a sinning against Christ; both against the law of Christ, concerning loving one another, and against the love of Christ, who, in dying for the weakest believers, hath showed the highest degree of love imaginable to them; whom they are far from following, who will not abate themselves a small matter of liberty, where the use of it this or that way may very probably be an occasion of sin and ruin to their brethren’s souls.
Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.If meat make my brother to offend; suppose therefore it were lawful for me to eat flesh offered to idols, yet if I cannot do it but I shall make my brother sin, I will forbear. Others understand it more generally, not of the meat before mentioned, but of all flesh: I will rather live upon bread and herbs; by which expression the apostle doth not suppose, that there can ever be such a case when there shall be any such need, but only declares how much a good Christian should do, to prevent his brother’s sinning against God.
I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend: those expressions, Mark 5:29, of plucking out the right eye, and cutting off the right hand, are much of the same nature; both those phrases and this phrase signify only, that we ought to do any thing, and to deny ourselves in any thing, rather than ourselves to sin, or be wilful occasions to others of sin.
From this discourse of the apostle it is very plain, that it is the duty of Christians, in any matters where they are by the law of God at liberty whether they will do a thing or not, to take that part which they see will give least occasion of sin unto their brethren, and to avoid that part which, if they will take, they see they shall by taking it give occasion to others to sin, though they be themselves never so well satisfied as to the lawfulness of their action (provided the action be only lawful, not necessary, and what by the law of God they are bound to do, or to avoid). But here two grave questions arise:
1. Whether the command of superiors doth not here alter the case? Admit a thing be in itself by us judged lawful, what by God’s law we may do, or let alone; and our superiors command us to do, or to avoid that thing: we on the other side see, that if we do it, or avoid it, we shall very probably be occasion to make our brethren sin, who doubt of the lawfulness of the thing. The question is: What is to be done in this case? That the law of God commanding love to our brethren equally concerneth high and low, is out of doubt; so that no superior ought more to command any to do what it is evident he cannot do without making his brother to offend, than the inferior ought to do it: but the question is: What is the inferior’s duty, if commanded?
2. A second question is: Suppose that, in such a case, I am commanded to do what I judge I may lawfully do, were it not for making my brother, by my example, to offend, and by the command of men I am obliged to do it, or to ruin myself and family; what is my duty in this case? In both these cases there seems to be a collision of precepts. In the first case the precept of loving our neighbours seems to dash against the many precepts for obeying superiors; in the other case, it seems to dash against the precept for providing for ourselves and families; so as the question is: Which precepts lay here the greatest obligation, where both cannot be obeyed? But we leave these questions to casuists. The determination of what is the will of God in either of them, will require a great many more words than what is fit to encumber annotations with, especially considering that neither of them properly falls into the explication of this text, where it is certain that the Corinthians were at a perfect liberty, and had no superiors that commanded them so to eat, (had the thing been in itself lawful), neither were they under any necessity, either to eat that meat, or to starve themselves or families; they had other flesh besides that to eat. In this case the duty of Christians is plainly determined by the apostle.