1 Corinthians 8:1-13 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. What common Christian knowledge does the apostle mention in 1 Corinthians 8:4b-6 (printed below?)

We know that a worldly idol is nothing, and that there is no God except one. (5) Even if there are so-called gods—whether in heaven or on earth—just as indeed there are many such gods and many such lords; (6) nevertheless, for us who have knowledge there is one God—the Father—from whom all things come and for whom we live, and one Lord—Jesus Christ—by whom all things exist and by whom we live. (1 Corinthians 8:4b-6)

The apostle asserts that it is common knowledge among Christians that “a worldly idol is nothing.” That is to say, no idol in the world has any power or life (note Psalm 115:4-7). Note: in 1 Corinthians 10:19-20 Paul will caution the church against the demonic power that lies behind the idol. Furthermore, it is common knowledge among all Christians that “there is no God except one;” namely, the true and living God who has revealed Himself in the Bible.

2. What problem did Christians who were newly converted from paganism experience? See 1 Corinthians 8:7 (printed below)

But not everyone possesses this knowledge. When some people eat meat they still view it as an offering made to an idol, since they have been accustomed to idols until now, and because their conscience is weak, it is defiled. (1 Corinthians 8:7)

All Christians possess an intellectual knowledge that idols are not gods and that the Lord alone is God, but this knowledge does not have the same liberating impact on the lives of all Christians. Those Christians who had just recently been converted out of a pagan background had been so long accustomed to regarding the eating of meat offered to an idol as an act of worship offered to an actual deity that they were having difficulty disassociating themselves from that erroneous conception. Intellectually they had come to know and accept the truth, but emotionally they were still affected by their former pagan misconceptions. Consequently, their conscience, being weak, was defiled; that is to say, whenever they ate such meat they felt as though they were still engaging in an act of pagan worship, and thus by eating the meat they were violating their conscience.

3. What does the apostle say about “knowledge” and “love?” See 1 Corinthians 8:1 (printed below)

Now concerning meat offered to idols. We know that we all possess knowledge. Let us be aware that knowledge “puffs up,” but love builds up. (1 Corinthians 8:1)

The apostle distinguishes between knowledge and love and the relative importance of each. “Knowledge ‘puffs up’” (the possession of knowledge has the tendency to inflate a man with pride.) “But love builds up.” Love seeks the welfare and the building up of our brothers and sisters. Love will seek to employ knowledge for our brother’s benefit and spiritual development, rather than for our own personal good at the expense of our brother.

4. What caution does Paul give in verse 2 (printed below?)

If anyone thinks that he knows anything exhaustively, he does not yet know as he ought to know. (1 Corinthians 8:2)

In verse 2 Paul gives this warning to those who are tempted to pride themselves on their superior knowledge: “If anyone thinks that he knows anything exhaustively, he does not yet know as he ought to know.” The Greek verb (“to know”) occurring in the form of the perfect infinitive indicates that the man in question thinks he has a definitive, exhaustive knowledge of a given subject. Paul explains that the man who thinks he possesses an exhaustive knowledge of a given subject (especially a subject relating to the things of God) actually does not yet possess the necessary knowledge of the subject. As finite, and sinful, men, we do not possess definitive knowledge in this present world (note 1 Corinthians 13:12); consequently, this should lead to humility and the practice of love.

5. How should “a strong brother” demonstrate love toward “a weaker brother?” See 1 Corinthians 8:9-13 (printed below)

Be careful that the use of your liberty does not in any way become a stumbling block to the weak. (10) This is what I mean: If someone sees you—one who possesses knowledge—sitting in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, being weak, become emboldened to eat what has been offered to idols? (11) Consequently, by your knowledge the one who is weak perishes—the brother for whom Christ died. (12) By sinning against your brothers in this way and injuring their weak conscience, you are sinning against Christ. (13) Therefore, if food causes my brother to sin, I will never again eat meat, so that I will not cause my brother to sin. (1 Corinthians 8:9-13)

Paul grants that the Christian with a strong and enlightened conscience has the “liberty” to eat (the reference here is to eating meat that has been offered to idols). But at the same time Paul warns that the stronger Christian must not use his “liberty” in such a way as to cause the weaker brother to stumble. Paul now presents a scenario demonstrating how the stronger brother must be cautious in his use of Christian liberty for the sake of the weaker brother (verse 10). The weaker brother observes his fellow Christian dining in a pagan temple. The weaker brother proceeds to draw the conclusion that participation in idolatrous worship is acceptable conduct for the Christian. Therefore, he becomes emboldened to participate in his former pagan idolatrous practices, reverting back to the very lifestyle of paganism out of which Christ has so recently saved him. The careless and selfish use of Christian liberty at the expense of a weaker brother is identified as sin (verse 12). Paul concludes by giving his own personal resolution (verse 13): he resolves to abstain from the exercise of his Christian liberty when and where it will cause a fellow Christian to stumble.