Exposition of 1 Corinthians 8:7-8, The danger of a weak conscience

1 Corinthians 8:7-8

7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

We must first recall that Paul has been working to correct the Corinthian slogan We all possess knowledge (1 Cor. 8:1). In 1 Cor. 8:6, he has subtly reminded the Corinthian believers that we live for God alone through Christ alone, and that relationship has absolute primacy over any past or present behavior related to idols.

The problem with knowledge is that it is not possessed by all in the church (1 Cor. 8:7). When some eat food that is in any way associated with idol worship, since their conscience is weak, it is defiled (1 Cor. 8:7b). The Greek word translated conscience (NIV) essentially means consciousness or self-awareness.[1] In this context we would say that some in the church have a fragile awareness of their identification with Christ and because of their past exposure to idolatry eating food that is possibly associated with idolatry undercuts that fragile identity. It feels like a moral violation that will make them odious in Gods sight. Defilement is metaphorically like being covered with slime.[2]

Though opinion is hardly unanimous, it is likely that food does not bring us near to God (1 Cor. 8:8a) is another slogan[3] used by the strong believers — who are too full of themselves — in hope of justifying their ongoing participation in certain settings associated with idols. Examples might be either attending a banquet in an idol temples meeting room or dining in the private home of an idol worshiper. This coming near to God (1 Cor. 8:8a) may involve a summoning for judgment by God that the strong implicitly deny will ever occur.

The second half of verse 8 is apparently Pauls authoritative opinion that food is not something that offers an advantage or disadvantage in relation to a Christians standing with God.

This is a good time to summarize what Paul is saying about knowledge. David Garland explains, Paul is an enemy not of knowledge per se but of knowledge that is not informed by faith or directed by love, that inflates egos and wants to put itself on display and receive acclaim.[4] In our context, Paul has shown that knowledge, even if technically correct, can harm those believers whose identity in Christ is still easily threatened by old associations. The next section will extend that idea.

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 644.

[2] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 640, offers an even courser metaphor from the ancient world.

[3] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 648.

[4] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 368.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!