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.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 10:23–26 Getting things in perspective

1 Corinthians 10:23–26

23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say — but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” — but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

25 Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26 for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

Because covenant loyalty to Christ is so critical to the believers in Roman Corinth, Paul wraps up his long argument (chapters 8–10) about Corinthian participation in contexts involving idols — and often sexuality as well — by talking about guiding principles. Garland ably summarizes: “He gives the go-ahead on everything that is beyond an idol’s orbit. It is not permanently poisoned. . . . He clarifies that food is food, and it is permissible to eat unless it is specifically identified as idol food, which puts it in a special category that is always forbidden to Christians.”[1] Undergirding these practical principles is the self-sacrificing love exhibited by Christ and expected of all his own.

Paul returns to the theme of personal freedom ( as in 1 Cor. 6:12) by quoting the Corinthian slogan “I have the right to do anything” (1 Cor. 10:23). While many Americans like the sound of that slogan, Paul considers it fatally deficient because it shows no consideration of what is “beneficial” and “constructive” (1 Cor. 10:23). Verse 24 puts this deficiency beyond question. Paul says our freedom should be used in the service of others. Paul gave his own example of surrendering his rights in chapter 9, and he is imitating Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). Put in other words, Christian freedom should lead to love for others. When you think about it, Jesus’ voluntary self-sacrifice was an act of love he freely chose.

The word “good” in the NIV translation of verse 24 — and in most other English versions —does not represent a Greek word; it is an inference. The New Revised Standard Version tries a different idea: “Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other” (emphasis added). Why would Paul leave the word out? Because he wanted to direct attention to the other person, not to the nuances of their condition. Garland adds, “Seeking the advantage of others rather than one’s own runs counter to the ‘me first’ sentiment that ruled the Corinthian culture.”[2]

Though it should not be necessary to remind Christians of the fact, when Paul gives commands about seeking the good (or advantage or well-being) of others, he is speaking on behalf of Christ! That is what it means to be an apostle of Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 1:1). As we learned in 1 Cor. 1:2, Paul is speaking to Corinthian Christians and all who trust in Jesus.

The “meat market” in Roman Corinth was something like a specialty butcher shop, and most of the meat there had likely come from one of the idol temples. Paul tells the Corinthians not to make an investigation at the meant market; just buy the meat and eat it (1 Cor. 10:25). This is not a question of loyalty to Christ, as it would be for meat eaten within an idol temple.

Paul implies but does not say that the demons behind Corinth’s idols do not have universal jurisdiction. What Paul does say is: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (1 Cor. 10:26, quoting Psalm 24:1). Garland explains, “Idol food loses its character as idol food as soon as it leaves the idol’s arena and the idolater’s purpose.”[3] That being so, the Corinthian Christians needed to focus on the rule of God and the grace of his provision rather than being obsessed with idols. We would do well to focus on the same things.

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



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 486.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 489.

[3] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 492.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 10:1–6 The road to idolatry ends with judgment

1 Corinthians 10:1–6

1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.

The commentators we have relied on most in this study all agree that the block of 1 Corinthians that deals with food sacrificed to idols extends from 8:1 to 11:1.[1] In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul gave his own personal example of surrendering his rights for the sake of others. His purpose was to encourage “the strong” in Corinth to give up their participation in banquets eaten at idol temples, or even food sacrificed there, for the sake of the weak, the believers with a fragile conscience.

We do not quite get the importance of this issue because our society is much more secular than god-saturated Roman Corinth. Think how hard it was for you to find a wide variety of organic foods five years ago; that is about how hard it was in Corinth to find meat for sale that had not been associated with idol worship in some way. Christians in Corinth were struggling to understand things as basic as how to eat in the idolatrous city without offending God.

In chapter 10 of 1 Corinthians, Paul explains the seriousness with which God views the disloyalty of those who were casual about idolatry. He does so by looking back at Israel’s history depicted in the Old Testament. Garland rightly says, “He does not rehearse the past events to understand the past but to understand the [Corinthian] present.”[2]

Thiselton offers a handy biblical reference for some of the terms used in verses 1–5: “Symbols associated with the Exodus wilderness narratives include the cloud (Exod. 13:21), the sea (Exod. 14:21–22), the manna (Exod. 16:4, 14–18), the spring (Exod. 17:6), and apostasy (Exod. 32:6).”[3] In particular, it is important to understand that the cloud refers to a towering cloud — shrouding the presence of God — that led the Israelites when they were moving and stood between them and the pursuing Egyptian chariot force while they were stopped. The sea refers to the Red Sea, which was miraculously parted to allow the Israelites to escape. The manna was supernatural food provided over all the years of wandering, and the rock was a source of water  during all those same years. The apostasy was the dabbling by many Israelites with various forms of idolatry even while God was continually providing for them; disaster was the result!

When Paul speaks of “our ancestors” (1 Cor. 10:1), Thiselton says the phrase often means “spiritual ancestor in a sense which denotes not necessarily blood ties but reproduction of character.”[4] That is exactly what troubles Paul; he sees the Corinthians playing with the same idolatrous fire that consumed their spiritual ancestors!

Garland says, “Israel’s deliverance through the sea marked the beginning of their separation from Egypt and their new identity as God’s covenant community, and the term ‘baptism’ fittingly represents that experience.”[5] The word “all” is very prominent in verses 1–4, occurring five times in the Greek text. Thiselton explains: “Such is the generosity of God’s grace that ‘all’ . . . participate in the privileges and blessings of the redeemed covenant people of God. . . . Nevertheless in the face of such divine generosity, less than the ‘all’ will appropriate God’s gifts and exercise the self-discipline which will bring them safely through the tests of the wilderness journey.”[6]

In this experience the Israelites were identified with Moses and the covenant God made with them using Moses as a mediator (Heb. 3:1–5). Just as Moses had the role of deliverer for Israel, so Jesus has that role all the more with those who belong to him.

When Paul speaks of “spiritual food” (verse 3) and “spiritual drink” (verse 4), Garland says he meant that “’they were formed not according to the law of nature but by the power of God.’”[7] Paul goes beyond the teaching of the Old Testament to speak of “the spiritual rock that accompanied them” (1 Cor. 10:4) and to identify that rock as Christ. What does that mean?

 A short detour from the main argument

The Old Testament contains two accounts describing how God provided water from a rock to quench the thirst of the complaining Israelites. The first account occurs in Exod. 17:1–7, not long after the passage through the Red Sea. Forty years later, the Israelites came to Kadesh and again bitterly complained about the need for water (Num. 20:2–13). Once again Moses summoned water from the rock — at an entirely new location than before.

Water was obviously needed by the people all during the long years between the two recorded occasions. Paul now reveals that “the spiritual rock” accompanied the Israelites during the whole time; further, “that rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4). What the people saw was a rock gushing water, but Paul speaks of the spiritual reality behind these events. He was probably thinking of Exod. 17:6, where God says, “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it.” Paul suggests that when God stood on the rock at Horeb, it was no other than Christ.[8]

 Return to Paul’s primary concern

Paul has reminded the Corinthian believers of the Exodus generation for a reason. God miraculously provided for them with food and water even while judging their rebellion during the forty-year trek in the wilderness. All the while, many craved the “meat” of Egypt (Exod. 16:3 and Num. 11:4) rather than the manna God faithfully provided every day. As we will see in our next post, the moment Moses was absent, this rebellion and craving led swiftly to idol worship (Exodus 32). Paul sees clear signs of the same progression in Corinth!

Paul plainly tells the Corinthians where this dangerous road will lead: God’s displeasure will lead to their death (1 Cor. 10:5). In verse 6, Paul explains that there is still time to learn from the example of their spiritual ancestors and to turn back from craving meat offered to idols and other evil things, which NIV translates as “setting our hearts on evil things as they did.”

Take special note that 1 Cor. 10:6 sets the stage for what comes next (1 Cor. 10:7–13). Paul signals his intention by using the idea of craving or desire twice in the Greek text, once as a noun and once as a verb. The NIV obscures this repetition by using the phrase “setting our hearts on.” We prefer the clarity of Garland’s translation for 1 Cor. 10:6: “These things happened as examples for us so that we might not become cravers of evil just as they also craved [evil].”[9] (emphasis added).

Fee summarizes forcefully: “But [Paul’s] point in all this must not be missed: just as God did not tolerate Israel’s idolatry, so he will not tolerate the Corinthians’. We deceive ourselves if we think he will tolerate ours.”[10]

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



[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 22; Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 607–612; Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 23.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 446.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 722.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 724.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 451.

[6] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 725.

[7] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 454, quoting Ambrosiaster, a church father.

[8] See NET Bible Notes for Exod. 17:6 for further information.

[9] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 447; also shown by Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 719, 733.

[10] Fee, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 450.

Poverty caused by misfortune

This post discusses a Christian response to poverty caused by misfortune such as disaster, death of a spouse, job loss, war-trauma or illness. (I am not talking about those who prefer a life of drug abuse or petty crime.)

I am glad to report that my home church does far better than most in caring for the poor and disadvantaged. Our pastor and elders have led the way in this effort since our church formed. However, I still believe that concern for the poor is the number one disconnect between the teachings of Jesus and most evangelical Christians today. Sermons on this subject seem few and far between.

Since I live in Texas, it has occurred to me that Texas culture may bear on the issue. Historian T.R. Fehrenbach wrote a history of Texas published in 1968. One of his conclusions was that Texas has the ethos of the frontier, where the strong live and the weak die. As a man born and raised in Texas, I have come to believe he is right about that. While his description of Texas values is accurate, that does not make this compassionless stance right in the sight of God.

If God had adopted this attitude toward sinners, then Jesus never would have been sent to die for our sins and reconcile us to God. Before our salvation, the Bible describes us as helpless and ungodly (Rom. 5:6), even enemies of God (Rom. 5:10). By the frontier values of Texas, we would have been left to die in our helplessness. But God apparently does not favor certain Texas values, because he demonstrated his love for us by sending his son to die for us that we might be reconciled to him (Rom. 5:8).

That is what the Bible says, but I may not be wise to publish these views in Texas!

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide.

Disturbing trend in US business culture

Since investment banks are vital to the current business structure of the United States, the morality of relationships between these institutions and their clients can tell us something about how “the world” functions as well as where it is going. Today’s op-ed by Goldman Sachs executive director Greg Smith in the New York Times is sending shock waves as he leaves the firm because of its rapacious way of using its clients. Read it here.

While most of us are not wealthy, it may be that a company like Goldman Sachs has some connection with your pension fund, mutual fund, or your bank. Plus, managers trained in the tactics of greed move on to other companies or into important positions in government.

Imagine, if you can, how a Christian could work for a firm that behaves toward others with the “use ‘em up” kind of approach that Smith describes. That hypothetical Christian would either follow the ways of Christ and probably get dumped, or they would succumb to the powerful undertow of greed and leave Jesus behind, perhaps forever.

All of us need to think hard about whether we are serving others or simply using them and then casting them aside when their usefulness comes to an end. Christians must be on notice that Jesus is Lord not only of the church but of their entire life. Never has it been more true that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21).

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Science: Global warming — amount of warming confirmed

Few issues have aroused the feelings of political conservatives and their evangelical allies as much as the claim that global warming is a fact. A newly published study has settled several key issues about this claim that had formerly made it seem questionable.

The New York Times has reported, “A team at the University of California Berkeley that set out to test the temperature data underlying the consensus on global warming has concluded that the mainstream estimate of the rise in the earth’s surface temperature since 1950 is indeed accurate.” The brief newspaper story may be found here. The study found that the earth’s land masses are 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than in the 1950s.

Three major groups had previously published claims supporting human-caused global warming based on a much smaller data set, but climate skeptics had raised several possible sources of error. Among those raising questions were some members of the Berkeley Earth study. The Berkeley study also shows that those possible error sources do not account for the temperature change previously found. The Berkeley study has particular weight in that it includes five times more temperature readings than the previous studies. All of the data and reports are available online.

Professor Richard A. Muller, Berkeley Earth’s founder and scientific director, stated:

Our biggest surprise was that the new results agreed so closely with the warming values published previously by other teams in the U.S. and U.K. This confirms that these studies were done carefully and that potential biases identified by climate change skeptics did not seriously affect their conclusions.[1]

The Berkeley Earth team includes physicists, climatologists and statisticians from California, Oregon and Georgia. One member of the group, Saul Perlmutter, was recently awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics (for his work in cosmology).

A surprising twist on the story is that the research leading to these findings was partially funded by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. Charles Koch is a billionaire who is most well-known for his support of libertarian causes as well as the Tea Party. Koch also has extensive holdings in fossil fuels.

One real test of these new findings may be whether evangelical Christians accept them as valid. Some Christians have demonstrated a clear disdain for any scientific finding that does not fit their own ideas. This global warming issue is not like the alleged biological evolution of human beings, a far more complicated theory with many unresolved questions. The Berkeley study involves measuring temperatures and assessing whether they are higher or lower on a global basis. If science cannot carry out this task, then we have to wonder whether iPods fell from heaven rather than being designed by engineers.

No conclusion was reached by the Berkeley Earth team about a second inflammatory idea  — human causation of the observed global warming. That awaits further study of ocean temperatures.

As a final treat, watch the video showing the warming of the earth from 1800 to the present at this link. Actually, it is a bit depressing. It starts with a real cold spell in the period 1800–1820 and ends with consistent warming over the last three decades.

Climate change has already made an appearance in the competing Republican campaigns for president. All the candidates firmly doubt there is any problem and several openly allege data manipulation by scientists.  No change in their views should be anticipated based on the Berkeley Earth study because they know what their primary voters believe.

Try to keep in mind that propaganda and data are two different things. This study contains data. God has made all of us stewards of the earth and all that is in it (Gen. 1:27–28), and we will be held responsible for what humans do on this planet. God isn’t running for office.

 

[1] “Cooling the Warming Debate,” by Elizabeth Muller, Founder and Executive Director of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study, 20 October 2011, page 1.

 

Politics 2012 — Michele Bachmann on wifely submission and homosexuality

Denny Burk, a Baptist college professor in biblical studies, has posted a handy compilation of Michele Bachmann’s responses to sharp questions from the press about her Christian faith. She was quizzed on her views of God’s guidance, submission of a wife to her husband, homosexuality, so-called same-sex marriage, and the potential appointment of atheists or homosexuals in any Bachmann administration.

By making such a direct appeal to evangelical voters, both Bachmann and Rick Perry will get these questions for certain. Burk correctly pans Bachmann’s claim that a wife’s “submission” to her husband means “respect” in texts like Ephesians 5:22. In most other cases he gives her a passing grade on her responses, except that he wonders if being even more direct might work better politically. By trying to hit some happy medium, a candidate can fail to hold supporters from either side of the argument.

While I think government without compromises is a ticket to national ruin, those compromises cannot be made by contradicting what the Bible plainly says. Homosexuality is sin without a doubt, and a Christian candidate for president should never say otherwise. But the United States is not a theocracy and presidential appointments should focus on competency rather than theological purity. Bachmann said that neither atheism nor homosexuality would rule out a person for appointment.

It would be wise to remember Judas Iscariot, who had charge of the money held by Jesus and the twelve disciples (John 13:29). Since we must all live in the world, it would serve us well to remember the words of Jesus: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16). Christian candidates for president should think carefully about what Jesus said.

Copyright © 2011 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.