” LISTEN UP SUPER – CHRISTIAN, DON’T BE A SMARTASS!”
i’m examining Paul’s Corinthian correspondence. Previous blogs on this and other topics can be accessed by date from the archive, or at emmock.com plus bible reference. The daily headline is a reminder of the world we live in.
Corinthians 8 Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
8 Now about food sacrificed to idols: we know that, as you say, “We all have knowledge.” Yes, that is so, but “knowledge” puffs a person up with pride; whereas love builds up. 2 The person who thinks he “knows” something doesn’t yet know
in the way he ought to know. 3 However, if someone loves God, God knows him.
4 So, as for eating food sacrificed to idols, we “know” that, as you say, “An idol has no real existence in the world, and there is only one God.” 5 For even if there are so-called “gods,” either in heaven or on earth — as in fact there are “gods” and “lords” galore — 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things come and for whom we exist; and one Lord, Jesus the Messiah, through whom were created all things and through whom we have our being.
7 But not everyone has this knowledge. Moreover, some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat food which has been sacrificed to them, they think of it as really affected by the idol; and their consciences, being weak, are thus defiled. 8 Now food will not improve our relationship with God — we will be neither poorer if we abstain nor richer if we eat. 9 However watch out that your mastery of the situation does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 You have this “knowledge”; but suppose someone with a weak conscience sees you sitting, eating a meal in the temple of an idol. Won’t he be built up wrongly to eat this food which has been sacrificed to idols? 11 Thus by your “knowledge” this weak person is destroyed, this brother for whom the Messiah died; 12 and so, when you sin against the brothers by wounding their conscience when it is weak, you are sinning against the Messiah!
13 To sum up, if food will be a snare for my brother, I will never eat meat again, lest I cause my brother to sin.
As I often complain about the translations I’m using, I should note that I think the CJB translation of this passage – and of Paul generally – is excellent.
As I’ve discovered reading again Paul’s advice to the believers in Corinth, he takes their questions and his own responsibility seriously. Although he has a basic disagreement with the “knowledge people” in Corinth, he doesn’t simply dismiss their questions. Here for example he deals with view that if believers know that idols are nonexistent, there’s nothing wrong with sharing a meal of meat offered in sacrifice to them.
Paul immediately seizes on the core of the issue, the conviction of superior knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, he warns, while love builds up. This is a fundamental theme of the Corinthians correspondence, in which its fullest and deepest statement is found in chapter 13 of this letter. Trust in God through Jesus Messiah is matter of heart and head together and if it cannot be both, then heart without head will suffice, but not vice versa. In fact it is much more important to be ‘known”, that is, intimately loved, by God, than to imagine we know, that is understand, God.
Paul is fair to the gift of knowledge, affirming the basic Judaio – Christiian doctrine that God is one and that Jesus Messiah shares his creative power. But he goes on to examine in detail the possible effect of knowlegeable believers parading their mastery of the idol issue before people whose conscience is less robust and might be tempted to do something that they believe to be sinful. The translation “mastery” for the Greek exousia is much more precise than more usual translations like ‘right’ or ‘freedom’. The knowledgeable believers want to demonstrate the power their knowledge gives them without a thought for brothers and sisters who can’t get their heads round this issue. Although Paul uses Greek verb skandalizein, he is not criticising more liberal behaviour for shocking the more conservative, but the arrogant behaviour of a self -appointed elite for injuring the faith of more traditional believers.
His language here is intended to persuade rather than to demolish his questioners.
Today there is plenty of evidence of arrogance on both sides of the liberal and conservative wings of the church. Of course believers must stand for the truths that divide them, but they should first of all attend to the truth and the love they share and find ways of living with difference. Respect for each other’s consciences might be a good start.
There may well be arguments which come down to fundamentals of faith, however, and in these instances Paul’s example involves persistence and a refusal to be browbeaten, as for example the issue of the circumcision of gentile converts. But even in these instances Paul does not question the sincerity of his opponents, unless, as in the case of Peter, they show themselves to be two-faced.