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1 Corinthians 8:1-13

You can read the text here.

Paul continues to address issues that impact the health and well-being of the body and this time responding directly to a question from Corinth, eating food (mainly meat) that had been dedicated to an idol. However, knowledge that gives one a sense of superiority or status is not real knowledge in Paul's eyes because it lacks love, which is the critical thing as the goal is building the community. The knowledge that really counts is not what you know, but by whom you are known, namely God.

Paul grants that idols don't have don't have an objective existence, for there is only one God and one Lord who created everything including the powers worshiped by the Gentiles. They are on a lower rung which if understood that way does seem to make eating food offered to them an non-issue.

Not everyone has this understanding. They may have participated in idolatrous practices for so long that they cannot disassociate idol food from cultic worship. Seeing the social significance of meals at the temple and the pressure some would have felt to participate to improve their status, it is easy to see how some could get sucked back into idolatry through meals at the temple or eating meat that had been offered to deities.[1] Yes food will not impact one's relationship with God,[2] but there is no advantage conferred by eating it either.[3] The right to choose is not inviolable, and it must be subjected to concern for the other. And the concern Paul has in mind here is a major concern, spiritual life or death.[4] The strong risk leading the weak back into idolatry and the loss of a brother or sister for whom Christ died. It's a serious matter to Paul as he sees it as a sin not only against the stumbled believer, but a sin against Christ himself. Paul ends with his personal commitment/example, to not eat meat if it risks leading someone away from Christ.

[1] Thiselton makes a strong case for understanding the strong as possessing higher status, while the weak are of lower status and these social meals would a) be one of their rare opportunities to eat meat, and b) be an opportunity to improve their status.

[2] Thiselton's translation is interesting, "Food will not bring us to God's judgment."

[3] As Ciampa and Rosner ask, but what about socially? Isn't abstention going to make you worse off there? To extend their line of thought, Paul would say that it's irrelevant. The only status that matters is being in Christ, so no it doesn't make one worse off.

[4] Ciampa and Rosner note that stumbling blocks in the NT aren't things that just make you trip, they are things that ultimately prevent salvation.


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