Exposition of 1 Corinthians 8:1-6, Knowledge and love

1 Corinthians 8:1-6

1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God.

4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

Our opening verse contains both the problem Paul is addressing and the beginning of its solution. While idolatry provides the context of the argument between Paul and the Corinthian believers, the real conflict is between two different kinds of knowledge. The form of knowledge that Paul opposes is the one that leads to spiritual pride and an excessive focus on individual rights exercised without regard for others in the church. The form of knowledge that Paul advocates is the one that leads to love for others, building them up and putting their interests ahead of ones own. This fact will not become fully obvious until the conclusion of chapter 8.

Be clear on the fact that Paul is not pitting love against knowledge. Nor is he saying that love is good and knowledge is bad. Instead, godly knowledge is the kind that results in love for others while worldly knowledge leads to selfish assertion of rights no matter how it affects others.

Before we get into verses 1-3 in detail, take a look at the following translation by Anthony Thiselton:

1 Now on the subject of meat associated with offerings to pagan deities: we are fully aware that All of us possess knowledge. This knowledge inflates; love, on the other hand, builds. 2 If anyone thinks that he or she has achieved [some piece of] this knowledge, they have not yet come to know as they ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves [God], he or she has experienced true knowing [is known by him].[1] (strikethrough added).

The translation just given is not the same as that of the NIV because the NIV follows a different line of NT Greek manuscripts than Thiselton follows. This is one of those rare instances in which the manuscript evidence can lead in two different directions (neither of which significantly alters any Christian theology believed by the historic church). Gordon Fee also agrees with Thiselton that the words in brackets ([. . .]) above are not part of Pauls original letter.[2] These words do not appear in the oldest available manuscript (p46) and were likely added by someone who mistook what Paul was driving at.

You may be asking What difference does this make? Good question! In this context, Paul is not talking about love for God or even being loved by God; he is talking about the need of the Corinthians to learn to love others; accordingly, the oldest manuscript (p46) does not mention God in this verse. Fee says, True gnosis [knowledge] consists not in the accumulation of so much data, nor even in the correctness of ones theology, but in the fact that one has learned to live in love toward all.[3] True knowledge is crucial to Christian faith, but it will always direct us toward love for others. We too must gain knowledge — true knowledge.

Returning to the question about the Corinthians association with idol worship (1 Cor. 8:4), Paul again quotes two Corinthian slogans: An idol is nothing at all in the world (verse 4) and There is no God but one (verse 4). By using these slogans, the Corinthians hope to live something close to the lives they led before trusting Christ. These sayings are intended to allow them to do as they like in relation to eating in idol temples, eating food associated with idols or participating in civic ceremonies somehow affected by idolatry. You might say that they are examples of Corinthian knowledge used to authorize individual liberties. Besides, living like they did before is good for business and advancement! But Paul has already warned them not to get sucked into the great game of this world, because this world in its present form is passing away (1 Cor. 7:31).

Paul will not fully correct their understanding until 1 Cor. 8:9-13. For the moment he starts where the Corinthians are and deals with the more general subject of idols, and their place in the minds of people who follow Christ; later he will introduce love for others.

In this context, Paul assumes for the sake of argument that idols exist and represent so-called gods (1 Cor. 6:5), and he goes on to speak of many gods and many lords. Fee explains that the gods designate the traditional deities (e.g., Poseidon, Aphrodite, and others) while lords was the normal designation for the deities of the mystery cults that had come to Greece from the Orient.[4]

Paul begins his shift away from idols and toward his theme of love with the words Yet for us there is but one God, the Father (1 Cor. 8:6a). In fact, Paul puts one God, the Father and one Lord, Jesus Christ in direct contrast with the many gods and many lords of the surrounding society.

In speaking of the one unique God, Paul describes our relationship to Father with the phrase for whom we live (1 Cor. 6:6) and our relationship to the Son with the phrase through whom we live. Our unique God is one, yet relates to us as Father and Son. The argument began with idols and has progressed — at this intermediate stage — to our relationship to Christ. Thiselton says, Christ-likeness and the shape of the cross mark all that a Christian believers are and do.[5] That being the case, Paul will soon take the next step in his argument by showing how those related to Christ in this way must live.

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) 612-613, following p46, Siniaticus and Clement of Alexandria. p46 is the oldest known Greek manuscript of 1 Corinthians, from about A.D. 200.

[2] 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) 364-369.

[3] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 368.

[4] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 373.

[5] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 638.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 7:1-16, Sexual relations within marriage

1 Corinthians 7:1-16

1Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.”

2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. 12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

The seventh chapter of 1 Corinthians has been the subject of considerable debate within the church over the centuries. Before we dive into the details, a few general ideas will help us. First, Paul does not use this chapter to give a complete theology of marriage. Instead, he is trying to resolve a dangerous idea that is wrecking marriages and tempting men to use prostitutes.

What is that idea? You find it in the quotation recorded in 1 Cor. 7:1 (“It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman”). Gordon Fee explains: “There has been considerable pressure within the church to dissolve or abstain from marriage. Paul’s response [to believers in various circumstances] is the same: Stay as you are.”[1] Another important theme advanced by Paul is explained by David Garland: “Throughout the chapter, Paul goes out of his way to underscore that women have the same obligations and rights as their male counterparts.”[2] That concept was revolutionary in first-century societies.

Why did this problem exist in the Corinthian church? First, the powerful influence of sexual attraction is a constant in all cultures. Making that influence more volatile was a raging debate among Greek philosophers about the importance of marriage in society; Roman society dominant in Corinth doted on Greek religion and philosophy. The Corinthian believers were not doing well in figuring out how all of that mixed with their new faith in Christ. Garland says, “An ascetic [self-denying] attitude toward sexuality was as much part of the intellectual landscape as was licentiousness [self-indulgence], and it was attractive to many for a variety of reasons.”[3]

In a setting where sexual immorality was common and where men were commonly accorded a greater license to roam sexually, Paul commands marital sex on an even-handed basis: Each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband (1 Cor. 7:2). The verbal forms are present imperatives, and Greek grammar expert Daniel Wallace reminds us that when an action is commanded, the force of the present imperative will usually be iterative [i.e., do it again and again].[4] When we consider the similarity of our own culture to that of Corinth, these commands could solve a lot of problems.

Interpretation in this chapter always applies a principle expressed by Garland: “Scripture does not use a verb that means to have sexual intercourse but employs euphemistic [figurative] language instead.”[5] The NIV has applied that principle in translating 1 Cor. 7:1-2, but in older translations, such as the King James Version, the meaning is less obvious.

It helps to understand that, in the Greco-Roman world, the purpose of marriage was the procreation of legitimate heirs who would inherit and continue the name, property and sacred rites of the family.[6] Paul does not even mention procreation and instead urges that sexual desire finds its proper place within marriage.

Verses 34 look on sexual intimacy between marriage partners as a mutual obligation. Fee makes the outstanding observation that “Paul’s emphasis . . . is not on you owe me but on I owe you.”[7] These verses are the heart of this section and exemplify Christian love.

The literary structure of 1 Cor. 7:1-5 dictates that verse 5 is parallel to verse 2. That being so, the necessity of a Christian husband and wife having regular sexual relations directly relates to temptation inspired by Satan, who tries to exploit any lack of self-control.

The main problem in verse 6 lies in determining how much of the previous text the word this refers to. The best solution is to apply it only to the second half of verse 5. Paul is not commanding a brief lull in sexual relations for the purpose of prayer, but he concedes that the marriage partners may agree to such a plan.

The meaning of verses 7-16 is relatively easy compared to the section we have covered above. Further information about issues of divorce and remarriage in 1 Cor. 7:7-16 may be found at the following link on the Christ Fellowship website:Unveiled: Divorce & Remarriage (See Week 3 starting on page 28 for the material on divorce and remarriage from 1 Cor. 7:10-16.).

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

 


[1] 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) 269.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 250.

[3] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 251.

[4] Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 722.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 254.

[6] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 494, citing R.B. Ward.

[7] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 280.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 6:5b-8, Confusing the church with the world

1 Corinthians 6:5b-8

5b Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother takes another to court and this in front of unbelievers!

7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters.

It is important to remember that the Christians in Corinth consider themselves both spiritual and wise as well as full of knowledge (1 Cor. 8:1). In the second half of verse 5, Paul indicates that he can see only one scenario that might explain how one Christian could take another before a civil court: apparently there is not a single person in the Corinthian church with the wisdom to render a decision in a dispute between two members. Gordon Fee says, This is biting sarcasm, which scarcely needs further comment.[1]

After crafting this scenario and making this sarcastic remark, Paul hammers it home by saying that such a scenario is apparently the true situation since one believer is actually taking another to court before unbelievers (1 Cor. 6:6). In our culture, we call this giving them both barrels [of a shotgun]!

Anthony Thiselton puts his finger on one way this issue plays out in contemporary culture: Paul might have something to say about the manipulative use of media and the published word by Christians who want to score [i.e., berate] fellow believers, even at the price of heightening the profile of their lack of respect for the other in the eyes of the world.[2] This type of attack goes on regularly between self-confessed Christians in politics, on blogs and in print.

Paul expresses the view — speaking as Christs apostle — that such pitched battles in a worldly forum demonstrates a profound failure of the spirituality, wisdom and knowledge that the Corinthian believers claim (1 Cor. 6:7). Using the worlds own tactics (you yourselves cheat and do wrong) is bad enough, but to do this to your brothers and sisters (1 Cor. 6:8) demonstrates a misunderstanding of what following a crucified Christ is about.

David Garland helps us question how Corinth might compare to our own situation: Corinthian society was riddled with competitive individualism , and this ethos spilled over into the church . … For some, the Christian community had become simply another arena to compete for status according to societal norms.[3] Could that be true of us?

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

 


[1] 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)237.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000)435.

[3] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003)6.