1 Corinthians 10:14-22

Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

1 Corinthians 10:14-22

14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?


Paul continues warning the Corinthians against idolatry. This part of his letter ties back into his statement, at the end of Chapter 8, wherein he said he would never eat meat offered to idols. Starting with The Pulpit Commentaries in verse 14:

1 Corinthians 10:14

Wherefore. As a result of the whole reasoning, which has been meant to inspire the weak with a more liberalizing knowledge, and the strong with a more fraternal sympathy. Dearly beloved. The word “dearly” should be omitted. Flee from idolatry. The original implies that they were to turn their backs on idolatry, and so fly from it.

flee = φεύγω pheúgō, fyoo’-go; apparently a primary verb; to run away (literally or figuratively); by implication, to shun; by analogy, to vanish:—escape, flee (away).

Paul is very clear here, and as we saw in the last section of verses, idolatry is not limited – by Paul – to only include direct worship of named pagan deities. Continuing in The Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 10:15

I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. An appeal to their own reason to confirm his argument, perhaps with a touch of irony in the first clause (1 Corinthians 4:102 Corinthians 11:19). The word for “I say” is φημι, I affirm.

1 Corinthians 10:16

The cup of blessing. A translation of the name cos haberachah (comp. Psalms 116:13), over which a blessing was invoked by the head of the family after the Passover. The name is here transferred to the chalice in the Eucharist, over which Christ “gave thanks” (1 Corinthians 11:24Matthew 26:27). There seems to be a close connection between the idea of “blessing” and “giving thanks” (eucharistesas, Luke 22:19), and here, as always, St. Paul and St. Luke resemble each other in their expressions. The communion of; literally, a participation in. By means of the cup we realize our share in the benefits wrought by Christ’s precious blood shedding. The cup is at once a symbol and a medium. The blood of Christ; of which the wine is the sacramental symbol. By rightly drinking the wine, we spiritually partake of the blood of Christ, we become sharers in his Divine life. The bread; perhaps rather, the loaf, which was apparently passed from hand to hand, that each might break off a piece. Is it not the communion of the body of Christ? The best comment on the verse is John 6:41-59, in which our Lord taught that there could be no true spiritual life without the closest union with him and incorporation into his life.

1 Corinthians 10:17

We being many are one bread, and one body. It is easy to see how we are “one body,” of which Christ is the Head, and we are the members. This is the metaphor used in 1 Corinthians 12:121 Corinthians 12:13 and Romans 12:5. The more difficult expression, “we are one bread,” is explained in the next clause. The meaning seems to be—We all partake of the loaf, and thereby become qualitatively, as it were, a part of it, as it of us, even as we all become members of Christ’s one body, which that loaf sacramentally represents Some commentators, disliking the harshness of the expression, render it, “Because there is one bread, we being many are one body;” or, “For there is one bread. We being many are one body.” But the language and context support the rendering of our version; and the supposed “physiology” is not so modern as to be at all surprising.

Paul makes an appeal to the reason of his audience and makes his argument again, this time focusing on a comparison between Communion and idolatry. Verses 16 and 17 describe the Church as being part of Christ, through the taking part of his body in the Eucharist / Holy Communion. This sets up the discussion of idolatry in the verses that follow. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(18) Behold Israel after the fleshi.e., Israel in its merely human aspect, not the spiritual Israel (Romans 2:28Galatians 4:29Galatians 6:16). The sacrifice was divided—a portion offered upon the altar and a portion taken and eaten (Deuteronomy 12:18Deuteronomy 16:11): so whoever ate a portion of the same sacrifice was a partaker in common with (not “of,” as in the English translation) the altar. This is another argument against partaking of the heathen feasts. You cannot do so without connection with the heathen altar. The example of Israel proves that.

(19) What say I then?—It might have been argued from the preceding verse that the Apostle admitted the heathen offerings and the idols to which they were offered to be as real as were the offerings and Being to whom the altar was erected by Israel, whereas in 1 Corinthians 8:4 he had asserted the contrary.

In verse 18, Paul makes an appeal to Israel’s own history and tradition for why meat offered to idols should not be eaten. The whole of this discussion is a delicate balance of both expressing why freedoms exist, and why they should not be acted upon. The verses cited here by Paul are no doubt part of the pre-existing argument in Corinth for why they should not be eaten.

But lest it be understood that this freedom does not exist, Paul continues to clarify, starting in verse 19. He is not saying that the idols, or the food offered to them, are anything. However, he does not want believers to participate with those in rebellion again God. Continuing with Ellicott in verse 20:

(20) But I say.—Better, No; but that the things which they sacrifice they sacrifice to devils, and not to God.

The word “devils” means evil spirits. The heathen world is regarded by the Christian Church as under the dominion of the Evil Spirit and his emissaries (Ephesians 2:2Ephesians 6:12), and in reminding the Corinthians that in Israel an eater of the sacrificial meat became a partaker with the altar of God, the Apostle meant to warn them that they would, if they partook of sacrificial meats offered on an altar of devils, become a sharer with that altar and the beings to whom the altar appertained.

Even if you are free in Christ, that does not mean you should eat from the alter of devils. It is a misunderstanding of the concept of Christian liberty to apply it to rebellion against God. Paul is explaining that a person has freedom in Christ, as someone who is one with Christ. If a person partakes from an alter to devils, then you are not with Christ in that action. Freedom does not mean one can or should sin. Paul returns to this idea in his Letter to the Romans in Chapter 6:

15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

This idea is difficult, and it forces the reader to really consider what freedom actually means. Who is more free… the man who bangs on the piano and makes noise but not music? Or the piano master who can play whatever music he likes? Paul sees freedom more in line with the latter example. You serve your master with discipline and earnestness, and you are made better as you do this. The harder you work toward service to the Lord, the more you are free from the bondage of sin.

Returning to the Pulpit Commentaries, we’ll look at the note for verse 21:

1 Corinthians 10:21

Ye cannot. It is a moral impossibility that you should. The Lord’s table. This is the first instance in which this expression is used, and it has originated the name. The table of devils (see Deuteronomy 32:37). In the fine legend of Persephone, she might have been altogether liberated from the nether world if she had eaten nothing since her sojourn there; but unhappily she had eaten something, though it was only the few grains of a pomegranate; and hence she must leave the upper air, and become the Queen of Hades.

1 Corinthians 10:22

Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? (Deuteronomy 32:21,” They have moved me to jealousy by that which is not God”). The expression, “a jealous God,” is used in the second commandment with express reference to idolatry, as in Exodus 34:14Exodus 34:15Are we stronger than he? Can we, therefore, with impunity, kindle his anger against us? “He is… mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against him, and hath prospered?” (Job 9:4).

You cannot serve the Lord while serving pagan deities. That seems somewhat obvious, but the most extreme idea of Christian liberty actually treats the latter as though it were nothing, and therefore permissible. So the fine line that Paul is walking in this discussion is entirely clear. The idols and the meats offered to them are indeed nothing. On that point, he agrees with the proponents of Christian liberty. However, serving that “nothing” is contrary to one’s service to God, therefore it’s impermissible. Freedom from the law does not mean an end of obedience. Freedom from the law removes the shackles of sin and creates opportunity to serve God instead.

Returning to the above analogy of the piano. If you are given the freedom of a piano, you cannot exercise that freedom fully unless you commit to the time and effort of learning to play. If you have a piano, and do not learn to play, you are no better off than the person who has no piano. Paul wants believers to use their freedom from sin, to serve God, and through that service and the sanctification that goes with it, become even more free. Humans are most free when they are most like Christ. We become most like Christ through diligent service to Christ.

Paul’s teaching here is in accord with Christ’s own words:

John 14:15 15 “If you love me, you will obey my commandments. 

Paul is not done with his explanation here. He continues in the rest of the chapter with the famous “all things are lawful, but not all things are helpful” passage.