Exposition of 1 Corinthians 10:27–30 Will “the strong” risk shame?

1 Corinthians 10:27–30

27 If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. 29 I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? 30 If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

In keeping with Paul’s long-running theme in chapters 8–10, the controlling verse for what follows is verse 24: “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

Though the section from verse 25 through verse 31 is complex due to “if” statements and rhetorical questions, Kenneth Bailey shows that it has a simple underlying structure:

Eat (verses 25–26) — shopping in the meat market; all belongs to God

Eat (verse 27) — dining with unbelievers and believers

Do Not Eat (verses 28–29a) — food is declared dedicated to an idol

Eat (verse 29b–30) — eating freely, without regard for others, defames you

Eat (verse 31) — eating in a way that honors God[1]

We have already addressed 1 Cor. 10:25–26 in the previous lesson. Paul switches to another common situation, being invited to a meal with an unbeliever (1 Cor. 10:27). There again the Corinthian believers may eat whatever is offered without raising questions; issues of conscience are not involved. Garland explains, “In this instance, Paul makes a concession to the reality that social connections were absolutely necessary to survive in the ancient world. In his day, intrepid mavericks could not strike off on their own and expect to manage. One needed relationships with others for services and protection.”[2]

In 1 Cor. 10:28, there are various possible scenarios about the possible identity of “someone” who says, “This has been offered in sacrifice [to an idol],” but choosing among them does not really matter. As soon as the statement is made, the invited Christian cannot eat, both as a matter of covenant loyalty to Christ and as a consistent witness to others. His choice is determined for the good of the others, or, you might say, for the good of the gospel. The focus on others is made explicit in verse 29a: “I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours.”

The interpretation of 1 Cor. 10:29b–30 is disputed. Keep in mind that the Greco-Roman world was far more focused on public honor and shame than we are today. We next present Thiselton’s views[3] in simplified form. Paul has dealt with some common situations in the previous verses. but now he imagines “the strong” to be dissatisfied with having their freedom limited by the opinions of others. After all, “the strong” know that idols are nothing and feel they should be able to eat meat in a neutral setting, such as a home, even though someone says, “This has been offered in sacrifice.” With this background in mind, “the strong” are saying inwardly, “Why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience?” (1 Cor. 10:29b). Paul intends this rhetorical question to force “the strong” to rethink their position in light of what comes next.

Thiselton’s translation of 1 Cor. 10:30 reveals the thorns hidden in the green grass of “the strong’s” freedom-from-concern-for-others: “Well, if I take part in a meal with thanksgiving, why should I suffer defamation of character over that for which I, at least, give thanks?”[4] When “the strong” plunge ahead and eat the meat sacrificed in the idol temple, both unbelievers and other Christians will shame them with their inconsistent behavior; they claim faith in Christ but then behave with disloyalty in eating food sacrificed to an idol. As a result, “the strong” will experience “defamation of character” when others revile them.

For these reasons, Thiselton sums up in the following way:

Paul’s meaning on this basis would be: what would be the advantage of my exercising my freedom if I thereby suffer defamation of character? If it genuinely does not matter whether I eat or not, why choose the path that raises unnecessary difficulties? What is the point of “freedom” if I cannot choose not to cause problems?[5]

In our next post, Paul will provide a fitting conclusion to the argument he has developed in chapters 8–10. You can be certain it will involve the Man for Others, Jesus Christ.

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



[1] Adapted from Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 2011) 283–284.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 493.

[3] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 790–92.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 779.

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 790.

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