CAN YOU EXPLAIN 1 CORINTHIANS CHAPTER 8?
by Shawn Brasseaux
I would be glad to do so, my friend! Before proceeding to exposition, we will read the chapter in its entirety. (Do not worry. It is but 13 verses!)
“ Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.  And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.  But if any man love God, the same is known of him.  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.  For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)  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.”
“ 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.  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.  But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.  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;  And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?  But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.  Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”
Chapter 8 opens a section of the Book of 1 Corinthians that deals with Christians associating with pagan idolatry and false religion. That section ends with the last verse of chapter 11. Friend, in your own personal study, you may read, as one unit, chapters 8-11 of 1 Corinthians, in order to get the full impact of what we will soon discuss. (You may also refer to our study linked at the end of this article, concerning the Lord’s Supper—chapters 10 and 11). With that said, we will study and explain 1 Corinthians chapter 8 verse-by-verse.
Verse 1: “ Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.”
Regarding things offered to idols, the Apostle Paul expected the Corinthians to have some knowledge. After all, he had been with them for 18 months, teaching them the Word of God (Acts 18:11). Furthermore, Romans chapter 14 had already dealt with how to handle matters involving the special diets of other Christians. The Corinthians should have had a grasp of the basic doctrine of Romans, but, as we will see, they did not. There was head knowledge but not heart faith! Notice the statement, “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.” Being aware of a lot of information can often lead to pride (“puffeth up” is “inflateth like a balloon”). It is not uncommon to find in various realms—sadly, even in “Christian” circles—people bragging about how much they know. They have been educated here, they have received advanced degrees from there, and so on. Without charity, the knowledge a person has will not benefit others. A lack of charity often means knowledge will be used to damage others.
Charity was greatly lacking in the Corinthian assembly—see chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians. The word charity means, “love in action.” Love is the attitude while charity is the behavior that the attitude of love produces. Charity is seeking another person’s benefit—charity is the opposite of selfishness. The Corinthians had learned a lot of doctrine from Paul, but they had not applied it to life by faith and were still not applying it to life by faith. In fact, not only was this destroying their own Christian lives, but all the other Christians’ lives around them. Since charity was absent, none of the Christians impacted were being “edified” (built up). Let us continue reading and expounding the chapter to see this fleshed out.
Verse 2: “And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.”
This is a reference back to verse 1 about “knowledge puffeth up.” Someone who feels superior to others simply because of his knowledge, he does not really know what he needs to know. In other words, he is not as knowledgeable as he estimates. With that knowledge, he should also know he should have charity. Charity ensures he will use his knowledge to edify his brethren instead of using that knowledge to destroy their edification process. Again, a lack of charity often means knowledge will be used to damage others. Never forget that, my friend!
Verse 3: “But if any man love God, the same is known of him.”
While commonly assumed to be referring to God knowing the man who loves Him, verse 4 causes me to conclude the pronoun “him” refers to the man rather than to God. That is, instead of reading the verse as “if any man love God, the same [man] is known of him [God],” read it as “if any man love God, the same [God] is known of him [the man who loves God].” A man who loves God will know of God. In other words, the man who loves God is going to know God is not some dead idol. A man who knows God knows God is living. As verse 4 says, “…we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.”
Verse 4: “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.”
During heathen festivals and other religious ceremonies, the pagan priests offered portions of animal sacrifices to the idols. Was it okay for Christians to eat that food offered to idols? The Corinthians had divided opinions. Thus, they asked Paul about it, prompting him to write this present chapter (see 1 Corinthians 8:1; cf. 1 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Corinthians 12:1; 1 Corinthians 16:1).
One Bible commentator provides some insight into the culture of the day: “The difficulty concerning idols, and sacrifices offered to idols, was twofold: First, to take any part in social life in the city of Corinth necessarily involved eating in public, in what was known as ‘common meals.’ These feasts were usually held in the temple, and on occasions it was a gala feast with more ceremony, which related to the worship of a pagan god. In the second place, a great percentage of the meat sold in the marketplace had been offered to idols. Thus, two difficulties arose for believers.”
Let us read verse 4 again: “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.” The idol is powerless to contaminate the food. There is nothing wrong with the food. It is just ordinary food. It is neither magical nor special. Had it been offered to the one true God, it would have been special—recall the sacrifices to JEHOVAH God in the Book of Leviticus, for example. Since the idols were dead and incapable of affecting anything, the foods were still regular foods. In the mind of a mature Christian, in God’s mind, there is nothing wrong with that food. It will not defile us. We will not go to hell for eating it. That food will not instill evil within us. Consuming that food is not equivalent to worshipping the idol to which it had been offered.
Verses 5-6: “ For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)  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.”
These two verses are explanatory information for verse 4. In this world of thousands of various religions, tens of thousands of denominations, there are numerous deities. Those deities are all worshipped in their respective groups as though they were legitimate supreme beings. People of the world religions believe in countless gods. However, we Christian believers know there is really one God. He is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. He, not those idols of world religions, is the source of all things. They are not Him and He is not them!
Acts 17:24-29 is Paul’s sermon to idol worshippers at Athens: “ God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;  Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;  And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;  That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:  For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.  Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.” We are to live for His glory and seek His will; we are not to be allegiant to false gods and goddesses.
As they believe in various gods, so the people of the world religions believe in various lords (masters). However, we Christian believers know there is really one Lord. He is the Lord Jesus Christ. By Him, God the Father created all things. Ephesians 3:9 says in our King James Bible: “And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been in hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.” (That phrase “by Jesus Christ” is omitted from modern English versions!) And, Hebrews 1:1-2 affirms: “God… Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom [His Son] also he made the worlds….” Our focus should be on Father God (the one God), and His Son Jesus Christ (the one Lord). We should not be sidetracked by Satan’s counterfeits (many gods and many lords). Ephesians 4:4-6 tells us: “ There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;  One Lord, one faith, one baptism,  One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
Verse 7: “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.”
This is in stark contrast to the first six verses. While we understand the difference between a powerless idol and the one true God, while we should understand the difference between a helpless idol and the living God, some believers do not yet have that knowledge. They are eating things offered to idols without knowing that the idols have not the defiled the food. They eat the food as a thing offered unto an idol. In their minds, eating the food offered is the same as worshiping the idol itself. Consequently, their weak conscience is defiled. The meat did not defile them; the eating without faith defiled them. As Romans 14:23 says: “And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”
Let us talk a little about the conscience. The “conscience” is our personal system of standards and norms that define our individual behavior. We use our conscience to evaluate what is “acceptable” in our eyes and what is “unacceptable” in our eyes. Someone who thinks the food is contaminated by idols, someone who thinks eating the food is the very act of idol worship, and they eat the food, they are going against their conscience. Sound Bible doctrine has not yet given them a strong conscience. They have not reached the point of spiritual maturity as the Christians who think according to verses 1-6. These weaker brethren still believe those idols have power to defile the food, and that the food defiles them spiritually if they consume it. The Bible says their conscience is damaged or “wounded” (verse 12). So, the natural question is, “If someone believes that food is contaminated by a false religious system, why is he or she eating that food in the first place?” The answer will be provided in verses 9-13. We will look at those verses shortly.
Verse 8: “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.”
Paul wrote this verse for the benefit of the weaker brethren, those who have a weak conscience and lack the spiritual knowledge of the opening six verses. Father God accepts us on the basis of faith in Christ. “We are accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). God does not accept us on the basis of whether or not we eat food offered to idols. The weaker Christian thinks this way because he has not yet come to a firm understanding of sound Bible doctrine. A Christian with a weak conscience will assume he should avoid the food, lest God reject him for being “defiled,” “idolatrous,” or “unclean.” Weaker Christians should come to see the matter the way God sees it and the way mature Christians see it. “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.” “Commendeth” means, “set forth for approval.” God does not think less of Christians who eat meat offered to idols. He does not think more of Christians who refrain from eating such meat. God is looking for a right heart attitude. Was it done by faith in His Word, or without faith and under peer pressure? Father God is looking for faith and not doubt. Romans 14:23: “And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”
Verse 9: “But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.”
Notice, this is a warning given to Christians who have knowledge about idols being nothing in the world and things offered to idols not being contaminated. While verse 8 is true (“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 weaker brother has yet to grasp it. Consequently, the stronger brother is to take heed, beware, that he uses his knowledge charitably (verse 1). The stronger brother is aware of his liberty to eat things offered to idols without being polluted internally. He knows eating the meat offered to idols is separate and distinct from worshipping the idol. The idols are nothing; the food is still edible, unaffected. However, if he does not use his freedom wisely, he will become a stumblingblock to his weaker brother. The stronger brother is to live in order to edify others (particularly weaker Christians). Instead of tearing them down, he is to build them up spiritually. If the stronger brother does not act charitably, exercising knowledge in a way that will benefit those around him, the weaker brethren will stumble. The stronger brother, although claiming to know so much, although having such a high opinion of himself concerning knowledge of things offered to idols, had no idea how much damage he would inflict upon his weaker Christian brother for behaving foolishly concerning things offered to idols (verse 2). This will be explained in the next few verses.
Verses 10-11: “ 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;  And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?”
Verse 10 is an explanation of verse 9, although verse 10 here is a unique case involving a pagan temple. Heathen feasts were held in the idol’s temple, and stronger Christians believed they could eat the meat being offered. This could be disadvantageous. If a weak Christian saw the stronger Christian eating food in the idol’s temple, the weaker brother would be “emboldened” (encouraged, pressured) into eating things offered to idols. Again, it would be a breach of conscience (verse 7). Thus, we see the people in verse 7, those eating things offered to idols even though they thought that food defiled them, they are eating because of peer pressure. The stronger brethren have not exercised charity!!! They have not edified the weaker brethren. Through the knowledge of the stronger brother, the weaker brother perished. “Perish” here does not mean to die physically, or to lose soul salvation and go to hell. It means the weaker Christian’s life will die—it will cease to function properly. His edification process has been interrupted, and may never resume! Hence, the Bible says be careful how you use your Christian liberty!
Friends, we would do well to pause here and remind our brethren in Christ never to use their liberty for an occasion to the flesh. The Bible says in Galatians 5:13: “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” Although God’s Word exhorts us to “serve one another,” to “[look] every man also on the things of others” (Philippians 2:4), this is often not done. With a heavy heart, I write this. There is far, FAR, too much selfish living among Christians today. Some preachers have stood behind pulpits in church buildings, wearing T-shirts that advertise bars and nightclubs!! Christians, even so-called “ministers,” use vulgar language on social media!! They do not think twice about posting indecent pictures on the internet for all to see and share!! (If you comment against it, they will say YOU are the one with the problem!!!) Cain’s egocentric question is echoed, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9).
We read 1 Corinthians 8:11 again: “And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?” Christ died for the stronger brother and weaker brother alike. He does not think less of the weaker brother and He does not think more of the stronger brother. However, if the stronger brother behaves uncharitably toward the weaker brother, the stronger brother thinks less of the weaker brother. That stronger brother did not simply mistreat some stranger, but another member of God’s family! Verse 12 goes into greater detail about this.
Verse 12: “But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.”
Dear brethren, if our Christian lives are not filled with charity, then we will sin against our brothers and sisters in Christ (go back to our opening comments about verse 1!!). We will wound their weak conscience. We will sin against Jesus Christ Himself! Think about it. Whatever you do to your weaker brother in Christ, friend, that is what you would do to Jesus Himself if He stood before you!
Verse 13: “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”
This knowledge is lacking in the brother mentioned in verse 2. Paul is a mature believer who is going to make personal application in his own life (and on into chapter 9). In light of the potential damage to other Christians in verses 7-12, especially verse 12, Paul said, if it caused a brother to stumble, he would not eat another bite of that meat offered to idols. As long as this world system was operating, the Apostle would always carefully use his liberty in Christ. Paul did not want to sin against his brethren. He did not want to wound their weak conscience. He did not want to sin against Christ. If only more believers had the mindset of verse 13. Many a stumbled Christians would have not stumbled! Many a Christians who tossed out the Bible and went back into the world, would have stayed in God’s Word! Unfortunately, the Christians around them lived loosely and selfishly. Some of their brethren paid for it dearly!
IS THIS CHAPTER REALLY APPLICABLE TO US TODAY?
Eating meat offered to idols is not a very common practice today as it was in the New Testament times. Still, it does happen. For example, even here in the United States of America, with whole neighborhoods guided by world religions, eating meat offered to idols is possible. The application of 1 Corinthians chapter 8 goes beyond the issue of idols and food offered to them. It can apply to any behavior in life. Brother or sister in Christ, it is extremely problematic if you start living at the expense of other Christians. If you are under the impression that God’s forgiveness entitles you to do anything and everything you want, then you do not know what you ought to know. Knowledge without charity is spiritually dangerous. How many poor Christians have stumbled in their lives because other Christians around them pressured them into doing things they were not comfortable in doing? Sad! How many dear Christians have completely tossed out the Bible because other Christians around them habitually lived in open and gross sin? Again, how sad!
We close by citing two self-explanatory, supplemental passages.
Romans 14:15-23: “ But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.  Let not then your good be evil spoken of:  For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.  For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.  Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.  For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.  It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.  Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.  And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (You may see verses 1-14 as well.)
First Corinthians 10:23-24: “ All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.  Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.”