1 Corinthians 8-10
New American Bible (Revised Edition)
B. Offerings to Idols[a]
Knowledge Insufficient. 1 Now in regard to meat sacrificed to idols:[b] we realize that “all of us have knowledge”; knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up.(A) 2 If anyone supposes he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if one loves God, one is known by him.(B)
4 So 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) 5 Indeed, even though there are so-called gods in heaven and on earth (there are, to be sure, many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 [c]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. 7 But 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 [d]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) 9 But make sure that this liberty of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak.(G) 10 If 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? 11 Thus through your knowledge, the weak person is brought to destruction, the brother for whom Christ died.(H) 12 When you sin in this way against your brothers and wound their consciences, weak as they are, you are sinning against Christ. 13 [e](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.
Paul’s Rights as an Apostle. 1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?(J) 2 Although I may not be an apostle for others, certainly I am for you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
3 My defense against those who would pass judgment on me[g] is this. 4 [h]Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to take along a Christian wife, as do the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? 6 Or is it only myself and Barnabas who do not have the right not to work?(K) 7 Who ever serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating its produce? Or who shepherds a flock without using some of the milk from the flock?(L) 8 Am I saying this on human authority, or does not the law also speak of these things? 9 It is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”(M) Is God concerned about oxen, 10 or is he not really speaking for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope, and the thresher in hope of receiving a share.(N) 11 If we have sown spiritual seed for you, is it a great thing that we reap a material harvest from you?(O) 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we still more?(P)
Reason for Not Using His Rights. Yet we have not used this right.[i] On the contrary, we endure everything so as not to place an obstacle to the gospel of Christ. 13 [j]Do you not know that those who perform the temple services eat [what] belongs to the temple, and those who minister at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings?(Q) 14 In the same way, the Lord ordered that those who preach the gospel should live by the gospel.(R)
15 [k]I have not used any of these rights, however, nor do I write this that it be done so in my case. I would rather die. Certainly no one is going to nullify my boast.(S) 16 If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!(T) 17 If I do so willingly, I have a recompense, but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship.(U) 18 What then is my recompense? That, when I preach, I offer the gospel free of charge so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.(V)
All Things to All. 19 [l]Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible.(W) 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew to win over Jews; to those under the law I became like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win over those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became like one outside the law—though I am not outside God’s law but within the law of Christ—to win over those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some.(X) 23 All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.
24 [m]Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win.(Y) 25 Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.(Z) 26 Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. 27 No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.[n]
Warning Against Overconfidence. 1 [o]I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea,(AA) 2 and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.(AB) 3 All ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them,[p] and the rock was the Christ.(AC) 5 Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert.(AD)
6 [q]These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did.(AE) 7 And do not become idolaters, as some of them did, as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.”(AF) 8 Let us not indulge in immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell within a single day.(AG) 9 Let us not test Christ[r] as some of them did, and suffered death by serpents.(AH) 10 Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by the destroyer.(AI) 11 These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come.[s] 12 Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.[t] 13 No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.(AJ)
Warning Against Idolatry.[u] 14 Therefore, my beloved, avoid idolatry.(AK) 15 I am speaking as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I am saying. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?(AL) 17 Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.(AM)
18 Look at Israel according to the flesh; are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?(AN) 19 So what am I saying? That meat sacrificed to idols is anything? Or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I mean that what they sacrifice, [they sacrifice] to demons,[v] not to God, and I do not want you to become participants with demons.(AO) 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and also the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and of the table of demons.(AP) 22 Or are we provoking the Lord to jealous anger? Are we stronger than he?(AQ)
Seek the Good of Others.[w] 23 “Everything is lawful,” but not everything is beneficial.[x] “Everything is lawful,” but not everything builds up.(AR) 24 No one should seek his own advantage, but that of his neighbor.(AS) 25 [y]Eat anything sold in the market, without raising questions on grounds of conscience, 26 for “the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s.”(AT) 27 If an unbeliever invites you and you want to go, eat whatever is placed before you, without raising questions on grounds of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This was offered in sacrifice,” do not eat it on account of the one who called attention to it and on account of conscience; 29 I mean not your own conscience, but the other’s. For why should my freedom be determined by someone else’s conscience? 30 If I partake thankfully, why am I reviled for that over which I give thanks?(AU)
31 So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. 32 [z]Avoid giving offense, whether to Jews or Greeks or the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved.(AV)
- 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, 20–1). 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.
- 8:13 His own course is clear: he will avoid any action that might harm another Christian. This statement prepares for the paradigmatic development in 1 Cor 9.
- 9:1–27 This chapter is an emotionally charged expansion of Paul’s appeal to his own example in 1 Cor 8:13; its purpose is to reinforce the exhortation of 1 Cor 8:9. The two opening questions introduce the themes of Paul’s freedom and his apostleship (1 Cor 9:1), themes that the chapter will develop in reverse order, 1 Cor 9:1–18 treating the question of his apostleship and the rights that flow from it, and 1 Cor 9:19–27 exploring dialectically the nature of Paul’s freedom. The language is highly rhetorical, abounding in questions, wordplays, paradoxes, images, and appeals to authority and experience. The argument is unified by repetitions; its articulations are highlighted by inclusions and transitional verses.
- 9:3 My defense against those who would pass judgment on me: the reference to a defense (apologia) is surprising, and suggests that Paul is incorporating some material here that he has previously used in another context. The defense will touch on two points: the fact of Paul’s rights as an apostle (1 Cor 9:4–12a and 1 Cor 9:13–14) and his nonuse of those rights (1 Cor 9:12b and 1 Cor 9:15–18).
- 9:4–12a Apparently some believe that Paul is not equal to the other apostles and therefore does not enjoy equal privileges. His defense on this point (here and in 1 Cor 9:13–14) reinforces the assertion of his apostolic character in 1 Cor 9:2. It consists of a series of analogies from natural equity (7) and religious custom (1 Cor 9:13) designed to establish his equal right to support from the churches (1 Cor 9:4–6, 11–12a); these analogies are confirmed by the authority of the law (1 Cor 9:8–10) and of Jesus himself (1 Cor 9:14).
- 9:12 It appears, too, that suspicion or misunderstanding has been created by Paul’s practice of not living from his preaching. The first reason he asserts in defense of this practice is an entirely apostolic one; it anticipates the developments to follow in 1 Cor 9:19–22. He will give a second reason in 1 Cor 9:15–18.
- 9:13–14 The position of these verses produces an interlocking of the two points of Paul’s defense. These arguments by analogy (1 Cor 9:13) and from authority (1 Cor 9:14) belong with those of 1 Cor 9:7–10 and ground the first point. But Paul defers them until he has had a chance to mention “the gospel of Christ” (1 Cor 9:12b), after which it is more appropriate to mention Jesus’ injunction to his preachers and to argue by analogy from the sacred temple service to his own liturgical service, the preaching of the gospel (cf. Rom 1:9; 15:16).
- 9:15–18 Paul now assigns a more personal motive to his nonuse of his right to support. His preaching is not a service spontaneously undertaken on his part but a stewardship imposed by a sort of divine compulsion. Yet to merit any reward he must bring some spontaneous quality to his service, and this he does by freely renouncing his right to support. The material here is quite similar to that contained in Paul’s “defense” at 2 Cor 11:5–12; 12:11–18.
- 9:19–23 In a rhetorically balanced series of statements Paul expands and generalizes the picture of his behavior and explores the paradox of apostolic freedom. It is not essentially freedom from restraint but freedom for service—a possibility of constructive activity.
- 9:24–27 A series of miniparables from sports, appealing to readers familiar with Greek gymnasia and the nearby Isthmian games.
- 9:27 For fear that…I myself should be disqualified: a final paradoxical turn to the argument: what appears at first a free, spontaneous renunciation of rights (1 Cor 9:12–18) seems subsequently to be required for fulfillment of Paul’s stewardship (to preach effectively he must reach his hearers wherever they are, 1 Cor 9:19–22), and finally is seen to be necessary for his own salvation (1 Cor 9:23–27). Mention of the possibility of disqualification provides a transition to 1 Cor 10.
- 10:1–5 Paul embarks unexpectedly upon a panoramic survey of the events of the Exodus period. The privileges of Israel in the wilderness are described in terms that apply strictly only to the realities of the new covenant (“baptism,” “spiritual food and drink”); interpreted in this way they point forward to the Christian experience (1 Cor 10:1–4). But those privileges did not guarantee God’s permanent pleasure (1 Cor 10:5).
- 10:4 A spiritual rock that followed them: the Torah speaks only about a rock from which water issued, but rabbinic legend amplified this into a spring that followed the Israelites throughout their migration. Paul uses this legend as a literary type: he makes the rock itself accompany the Israelites, and he gives it a spiritual sense. The rock was the Christ: in the Old Testament, Yahweh is the Rock of his people (cf. Dt 32, Moses’ song to Yahweh the Rock). Paul now applies this image to the Christ, the source of the living water, the true Rock that accompanied Israel, guiding their experiences in the desert.
- 10:6–13 This section explicitates the typological value of these Old Testament events: the desert experiences of the Israelites are examples, meant as warnings, to deter us from similar sins (idolatry, immorality, etc.) and from a similar fate.
- 10:9 Christ: to avoid Paul’s concept of Christ present in the wilderness events, some manuscripts read “the Lord.”
- 10:11 Upon whom the end of the ages has come: it is our period in time toward which past ages have been moving and in which they arrive at their goal.
- 10:12–13 Take care not to fall: the point of the whole comparison with Israel is to caution against overconfidence, a sense of complete security (1 Cor 10:12). This warning is immediately balanced by a reassurance, based, however, on God (1 Cor 10:13).
- 10:14–22 The warning against idolatry from 1 Cor 10:7 is now repeated (1 Cor 10:14) and explained in terms of the effect of sacrifices: all sacrifices, Christian (1 Cor 10:16–17), Jewish (1 Cor 10:18), or pagan (1 Cor 10:20), establish communion. But communion with Christ is exclusive, incompatible with any other such communion (1 Cor 10:21). Compare the line of reasoning at 1 Cor 6:15.
- 10:20 To demons: although Jews denied divinity to pagan gods, they often believed that there was some nondivine reality behind the idols, such as the dead, or angels, or demons. The explanation Paul offers in 1 Cor 10:20 is drawn from Dt 32:17: the power behind the idols, with which the pagans commune, consists of demonic powers hostile to God.
- 10:23–11:1 By way of peroration Paul returns to the opening situation (1 Cor 8) and draws conclusions based on the intervening considerations (1 Cor 9–10).
- 10:23–24 He repeats in the context of this new problem the slogans of liberty from 1 Cor 6:12, with similar qualifications. Liberty is not merely an individual perfection, nor an end in itself, but is to be used for the common good. The language of 1 Cor 10:24 recalls the descriptions of Jesus’ self-emptying in Phil 2.
- 10:25–30 A summary of specific situations in which the eating of meat sacrificed to idols could present problems of conscience. Three cases are considered. In the first (the marketplace, 1 Cor 10:25–26) and the second (at table, 1 Cor 10:27), there is no need to be concerned with whether food has passed through a pagan sacrifice or not, for the principle of 1 Cor 8:4–6 still stands, and the whole creation belongs to the one God. But in the third case (1 Cor 10:28), the situation changes if someone present explicitly raises the question of the sacrificial origin of the food; eating in such circumstances may be subject to various interpretations, some of which could be harmful to individuals. Paul is at pains to insist that the enlightened Christian conscience need not change its judgment about the neutrality, even the goodness, of the food in itself (1 Cor 10:29–30); yet the total situation is altered to the extent that others are potentially endangered, and this calls for a different response, for the sake of others.
- 10:32–11:1 In summary, the general rule of mutually responsible use of their Christian freedom is enjoined first negatively (1 Cor 10:32), then positively, as exemplified in Paul (1 Cor 10:33), and finally grounded in Christ, the pattern for Paul’s behavior and theirs (1 Cor 11:1; cf. Rom 15:1–3).