As touching things offered unto idols - This was another subject on which the Corinthians had asked the apostle's advice, and we shall understand the whole of this chapter the better when we consider one fact, viz. That there had long subsisted a controversy between the Karaites and the Traditionists, how far it was lawful to derive any benefit or advantage from things used by the Gentiles. The Karaites were a sect of the Jews who scrupulously held to the letter of the sacred writings, taking this alone for their directory. The Traditionists were those who followed the voice of the elders, interpreting the Divine testimonies by their decisions. From a work of the Karaites, entitled Addereth Eliyahu, Triglandus has extracted the following decisions, which will throw light upon this subject. "It is unlawful to receive any benefit from any kind of heathen worship, or from any thing that has been offered to an idol." - "It is unlawful to buy or sell an idol, and if, by accident, any such thing shall come into thy power, thou shalt derive no emolument from it." - "The animals that are destined and prepared for the worship of idols are universally prohibited; and particularly those which bear the mark of the idol. This should be maintained against the opinion of the Traditionists, who think they may lawfully use these kinds of animals, provided they be not marked with the sign of the idol." Thus far the Karaites; and here we see one strong point of difference between these two sects. The Karaites totally objected to every thing used in idolatrous services: the Traditionists, as the Talmud shows, did generally the same; but it appears that they scrupled not to use any animal employed in idolatrous worship, provided they did not see the sign of the idol on it. Now the sign of the idol must be that placed on the animal previously to its being sacrificed, such as gilded horns and hoofs, consecrated fillets, garlands, etc. And as, after it had been sacrificed, and its flesh exposed for sale in the shambles, it could bear none of these signs, we may take it for granted that the Jews might think it lawful to buy and eat this flesh: this the Karaite would most solemnly scruple. It may be just necessary to state here, that it was customary, after the blood and life of an animal had been offered in sacrifice to an idol, to sell the flesh in the market indiscriminately with that of other animals which had not been sacrificed, but merely killed for common use. Even the less scrupulous Jews, knowing that any particular flesh had been thus offered, would abhor the use of it; and as those who lived among the Gentiles, as the Jews at Corinth, must know that this was a common case, hence they would be generally scrupulous; and those of them that were converted to Christianity would have their scruples increased, and be as rigid on this point as the Karaites themselves. On the other hand, those of the Gentiles who had received the faith of Christ, knowing that an idol was nothing in the world, nor was even a representation of any thing, (for the beings represented by idol images were purely imaginary), made no scruple to buy and eat the flesh as they used to do, though not with the same intention; for when, in their heathen state, they ate the flesh offered to idols, they ate it as a feast with the idol, and were thus supposed to have communion with the idol; which was the grossest idolatry.
From these observations it will at once appear that much misunderstanding and offense must have existed in the Corinthian Church; the converted Jews abominating every thing that they knew had been used in the heathen worship, while the converted Gentiles, for the reasons above assigned, would feel no scruple on the account.
We know that we all have knowledge - I am inclined to think that these are not St. Paul's words, but a quotation from the letter of the Corinthians to him, and a proof of what the apostle says below, knowledge puffeth up; but however the words may be understood as to their origin, they contain a general truth, as they relate to Christians of those times, and may be thus paraphrased; "All we who are converted to God by Christ have sufficient knowledge concerning idols and idol worship; and we know also the liberty which we have through the Gospel, not being bound by Jewish laws, rites, ceremonies, etc.; but many carry their knowledge in this liberty too far, and do what is neither seemly nor convenient, and thus give offense to others."
Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth - This knowledge is very nearly allied to pride; it puffeth up the mind with vain conceit, makes those who have it bold and rash, and renders them careless of the consciences of others. And this knowledge, boasted of by the Corinthians, led them to contemn others; for so the word φυσιοι is understood by some eminent critics.
Now as touching - In regard to; in answer to your inquiry whether it is right or not to partake of those things.
Things offered unto idols - Sacrifices unto idols. Meat that had been offered in sacrifice, and then either exposed to sale in the market, or served up at the feasts held in honor of idols, at their temples, or at the houses of their devotees. The priests, who were entitled to a part of the meat that was offered in sacrifice, would expose it to sale in the market; and it was a custom with the Gentiles to make feasts in honor of the idol gods on the meat that was offered in sacrifice; see 1 Corinthians 8:10, of this chapter, and 1 Corinthians 10:20-21. Some Christians would hold that there could be no harm in partaking of this meat any more than any other meat, since an idol was nothing; and others would have many scruples in regard to it, since it would seem to countenance idol worship. The request made of Paul was, that he should settle some “general principle” which they might all safely follow.
We know - We admit; we cannot dispute; it is so plain a case that no one can be ignorant on this point. Probably these are the words of the Corinthians, and perhaps they were contained in the letter which was sent to Paul. They would affirm that they were not ignorant in regard to the nature of idols; they were well assured that they were nothing at all; and hence, they seemed to infer that it might be right and proper to partake of this food anywhere and everywhere, even in the idol temples themselves; see 1 Corinthians 8:10. To this Paul replies in the course of the chapter, and particularly in 1 Corinthians 8:7.
That we all have knowledge - That is, on this subject; we are acquainted with the true nature of idols, and of idol worship; we all esteem an idol to be nothing, and cannot be in danger of being led into idolatry, or into any improper views in regard to this subject by participating of the food and feasts connected with idol worship This is the statement and argument of the Corinthians. To this Paul makes two answers:
(1)In a “parenthesis” in 1 Corinthians 8:1-3, to wit, that it was not safe to rely on mere knowledge in such a case, since the effect of mere knowledge was often to puff people up and to make them proud, but that they ought to act rather from “charity,” or love; and,
(2)That though the mass of them might have this knowledge, yet that all did not possess it, and they might be injured, 1 Corinthians 8:7.
Having stated this argument of the Corinthians, that all had knowledge, in 1 Corinthians 8:1, Paul then in a parenthesis states the usual effect of knowledge, and shows that it is not a safe guide, 1 Corinthians 8:1-3. In 1 Corinthians 8:4, he “resumes” the statement (commenced in 1 Corinthians 8:1) of the Corinthians, but which, in a mode quite frequent in his writings, he had broken off by his parenthesis on the subject of knowledge; and in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, he states the argument more at length; concedes that there was to them but one God, and that the majority of them must know that; but states in 1 Corinthians 8:7, that all had not this knowledge, and that those who had knowledge ought to act so as not to injure those who had not.
Knowledge puffeth up - This is the beginning of the parenthesis. It is the reply of Paul to the statement of the Corinthians, that all had knowledge. The sense is, “Admitting that you all have knowledge; that you know what is the nature of an idol, and of idol worship; yet mere knowledge in this case is not a safe guide; its effect may be to puff up, to fill with pride and self-sufficiency, and to lead you astray. charity or love, as well as knowledge, should be allowed to come in as a guide in such cases, and will be a safer guide than mere knowledge.” There had been some remarkable proofs of the impropriety of relying on mere knowledge as a guide in religious matters among the Corinthians, and it was well for Paul to remind them of it. These pretenders to uncommon wisdom had given rise to their factions, disputes, and parties, (see 1 Corinthians 1; 2; 3); and Paul now reminds them that it was not safe to rely on such a guide. And it is no more safe now than it was then. Mere knowledge, or science, when the heart is not right, fills with pride; swells a man with vain self-confidence and reliance in his own powers, and very often leads him entirely astray. Knowledge combined with right feelings, with pure principles, with a heart filled with love to God and human beings, may be trusted: but not mere intellectual attainments; mere abstract science; the mere cultivation of the intellect. Unless the heart is cultivated with that, the effect of knowledge is to make a man a pedant; and to fill him with vain ideas of his own importance; and thus to lead him into error and to sin.
But charity edifieth - Love ( ἡ ἀγάπη hē agapē); so the word means; and so it would be well to translate it. Our word “charity” we now apply almost exclusively to alms-giving, or to the favorable opinion which we entertain of others when they seem to be in error or fault. The word in the Scripture means simply “love.” See the notes on 1 Corinthians 13. The sense here is, “Knowledge is not a safe guide, and should not be trusted. love to each other and to God, true Christian affection, will be a safer guide than mere knowledge, Your conclusion on this question should not be formed from mere abstract knowledge; but you should ask what love to others - to the peace, purity, happiness, and salvation of your brethren - would demand. If love to them would prompt to this course, and permit you to partake of this food, it should be done; if not, if it would injure them, whatever mere knowledge would dictate, it should not be done.” The doctrine is, that love to God and to each other is a better guide in determining what to do than mere knowledge. And it is so. It will prompt us to seek the welfare of others, and to avoid what would injure them. It will make us tender, affectionate, and kind; and will better tell us what to do, and how to do it in the best way, than all the abstract knowledge that is conceivable. The man who is influenced by love, ever pure and ever glowing, is not in much danger of going astray, or of doing injury to the cause of God. The man who relies on his knowledge is heady, high-minded, obstinate, contentious, vexatious, perverse, opinionated; and most of the difficulties in the church arise from such people. Love makes no difficulty, but heals and allays all; mere knowledge heals or allays none, but is often the occasion of most bitter strife and contention. Paul was wise in recommending that the question should be settled by love; and it would be wise if all Christians would follow his instructions.